The Emergence of Twenty-First Century Leadership

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Today’s guest post is by our talented colleague, and friend Cathy Taylor.  Cathy is a social media expert who helps businesses develop comprehensive communications strategies to achieve business goals and objectives.  More of Cathy’s insightful articles can be found on her blog.

Flexible, adaptable and innovative companies require a different kind of leader, those with a passion for discovering how to do what no one else is doing and doing it better than anyone else. twenty-first century leadership is one in which all the power to make change is no longer concentrated at the top. The command-and-control style of management is buried, and the birth of customer-centered leadership emerges to form companies that are flexible, adaptable and innovative.

Management expert and business thinker Dr. Gary Hamel is a strong proponent of what he calls the reinvention of management. Dr. Hamel believes the ability to embrace new challenges is one of three steps to continuous management innovation. He suggests today’s leader must focus on innovation, adaptability and engagement. Why? Because in order to go beyond the global commodities of human capital, Dr. Hamel espouses that leaders must nurture worker skill sets like initiative, creativity, and passion and zeal, skill sets that often go untapped in many organizations.

Old School Management

The current practice of management originated in the industrial age. Think back to the Ford Model T. The need for managers was to ensure that the cars rolled of the assembly line with little defect and as efficiently as possible. This type of management fostered hierarchical and bureaucratic companies with rules and procedures that in today’s world have become restrictive. Very little innovation occurs in an environment where employees are not empowered to be creative problem solvers.

Now fast-forward to the twenty-first century. The dismantling of old school management styles are beginning to take shape, particularly for companies that want to seriously compete on a global front. Thanks to technology, companies can find employees in every corner of the world who fit within the old framework, workers who do what they are told, who work hard, and who have the intellectual capacity to perform their job. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with these qualities. However, in order to create a sustainable business in this new economy, leaders must strive to create the type of business culture that fosters innovation, diversity and flexibility.

New School Management

The mandate for creating flexible, innovative and engaging workplaces requires leaders who are psychologically capable, ready for change and motivated to compete in a global landscape. New school management style results in what Hamel calls an inversion of the leadership model. At the Fortune Innovation Forum, Hamel suggested leaders should no longer ask, “How do I get people to serve the organization’s goals?”  Instead, he said, the question should be how do leaders create an organization that allows people to serve their own goals while simultaneously serving customers and creating wealth.

The new problems that leaders face today cannot be solved with old school tactics. Innovative leaders in the twenty-first century will have to be even more assertive, and look for the competitive situations that allow their company to stand out from the rest. New thinking must take shape to face new realities.

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Meghan M. Biro

Meghan M. Biro

Meghan M. Biro is a globally recognized Talent Management and HR Tech brand strategist, analyst, digital catalyst, author and speaker. As founder and CEO of TalentCulture, she has worked with hundreds of companies, from early-stage ventures to global brands like Microsoft, IBM and Google, helping them recruit and empower stellar talent. Meghan has been a guest on numerous radio shows and online forums, and has been a featured speaker at global conferences. She is a regular contributor at Forbes, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur and several other media outlets. Meghan regularly serves on advisory boards for leading HR and technology brands. Meghan has been voted one of the Top 100 Social Media Power Influencers in 2015 by StatSocial and Forbes, Top 50 Most Valuable Social Media Influencers by General Sentiment, Top 100 on Twitter Business, Leadership, and Tech by Huffington Post, and Top 25 HR Trendsetters by HR Examiner.


  1. Absolutely Cathy. It’s about empowering your employees to manage their career paths via informal/formal learning, peer mentoring and to have at least some understanding of their broader impact on the organization that includes collaborative teamwork — and for leaders to lead small while thinking big.

  2. Thanks Kevin. This is an interesting dynamic to watch unfold. I am researching organizational change models and aligning them with leadership qualities. It will be interesting to see how and if leaders will adapt to the ‘new school’ style to effect real change w/in their companies. Human capital, I think, has become so critical to the process like never before.

  3. Really enjoyed this read Cathy. You touched on many valuable points. The command-and-control style of management is disappearing at a more rapid pace now. Change is happening at lightning speeds and the need for understanding these shifts is key from a management perspective. New ideas in e2.0 collaboration, a multi-generational influx of fresh ideas, and the realization that effective management is now viewed from a more global view with hyper-connected employees. In my opinion, true collaboration likely means becoming flatter and more concentrated on positive *group* outcomes first. The rest will then follow. Human Capital/Talent Strategy is now more consistently focused on the emotional intelligence factor screening criteria – particularly for management/leadership roles.

  4. Meghan: Thank for your comments. Yes, emotional intelligence is a critical piece to understanding and knowing if leaders and managers have what it takes to be effective in their respective roles. Those individuals with the self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management stand to benefit stand to benefit much more in a ‘new school’, 21st Century leadership arena.

  5. Leadership is a very tough thing to get a grip on. But what is OBVIOUS is that what most “leaders” are doing is NOT working. People are not engaged and uninvolved, ready to quit for anything different, and generally move from liking to disliking their jobs within 6 months. LOTS of statistics on that.

    People want to feel involved and appreciated. Not hard to do that. But leaders seem to feel that if they are not acting like The Boss, they are not acting like a leader.

    BOSS spelled backwards is self-explanatory.

    When will change occur? In the US, probably never as we have been continuing to gut middle management, pay people poorly, reduce benefits and see PROFIT as the only purpose. We now only train people to basic competencies – we spend NO money on training for the future for the most part.

    Employment has so many potentially positive aspects to it and people with good jobs tend to be more supportive of their communities. But we seem to hold up these rich, isolated CEOs as positive examples of what everyone should be.


  6. @Scott: You’re right. Leadership isn’t living up to all it could be leaving worker productivity, engagement and involvement to suffer. But the more we keep talking about it in these venues hopefully, the more people will start to embrace the new thinking. And to your other point about the ‘gutting of middle management’ perhaps the next shift we’ll see is company leaders putting more money into training middle managers and others as part of succession training. Stats on that too show that investing in people pays dividends in the long-run.

    Thanks for your comments.

  7. I believe it delves even deeper than managing career paths for the employees. New age management should be a complete and total commitment to work for your employees, not your employees working for you. You do everything in your power to support your employees and expect that those tasked with being your leaders are doing the same thing for you. This ensures trust, builds rapport and ENSURES success. The more committed you are to your employees (sincerely), the more committed they become to you and the company. It’s a leap of faith for some managers who are still stuck in a micro-managing mode, but if you can let go and work on making this happen, it WILL pay off. Much more training needs to be done for MANAGERS. It seems as though most training opportunities all revolve around employees instead of managers. It is amazing how many poor managers we have out there!

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