I’ve been thinking about this a LOT as we move away from the pandemic: What is a great 21st-century leader?
We’ve certainly had more than our fair share of what bad leadership looks like. All we had to do was watch the news every night to know that some old-school leadership styles were more than broken and failed us.
So, what has changed?
I’ve been thinking about the traits of a great leader these days — what characteristics of a leader in the 20th c. still make the cut? What traits transcend space and time for a great leader, vs. what new leadership characteristics have changed from the traditional model?
My smart friends offered me some suggestions on what it means to be a great leader today — which I’ll share below. (I’ll be the first to admit that I personally put these into one of two buckets — old school vs. new school leadership:
The timeless leadership characteristic includes the basics, like mentoring, speaking, writing, and life-long learning. However, I think there are more “new” leadership traits that a 21st c. leader must also have, in order to engage a wider, more diverse audience — and be more inclusive.
Of all the ‘new’ traits, particularly post-pandemic — I think great leaders of the 21st century will need to be more real. Show mistakes. Admit faults. Demonstrate that leading isn’t always easy. It’s hard. And, leaders need to get clear on values and live through the values. The PR opacity of the past needs to go away, permanently. No one is perfect, and I think the great leaders of the 21st century aren’t going to hide their imperfections. After all, what makes you strange, weird, different, or even weak (vulnerable?) may just be your superpower as a 21st c. leader.
I’m on the fence about these traits, and whether or not the leaders of yore had these qualities or not. What do you think? Of the part I’m definite about: being a great 21 c. leader is not the leadership of the past in every sense. It’s a lot more complicated now, but the good news is — I also think it’s a new kind of leadership that is closer to reality.