Leadership in the 21st Century

21Cent Leader

The summer I turned 13; I attended my first formal leadership training workshop. I was hooked!

I have served hundreds of leadership positions in the 25 years since that weekend – formal, informal, elected, appointed, volunteered, etc. Some were for pay while others were just necessary. Some were as brief as 10 minutes; while others lasted 10+ years. The size, shape, and purpose of those I lead have been so varied that I can hardly comprehend it myself.

Throughout my entire journey; I continue to learn and explore ways of being the kind of leader that I want to be as well as the kind of leader people want to follow.

While there are hundreds of thousands of books on leadership skills and techniques; the art of leadership seems to be getting increasingly more rare. This is especially challenging as we delve deeper into the 21st Century where technology gives us more options for selecting how, where, and most importantly, WHO to follow.

Anything similar to a ‘command-and-control’ model is as contemporary as a computer running MS-DOS. Today’s leadership is about collaboration and open communication. Notions of just one supreme Leader are quickly fading into irrelevance, as they do not work well with growing trends of remote and distant workers or the Millenial generation that are now beyond starting professional careers.

Contemporary businesses operate with LOTS of leaders who have knowledge, experience, and the ability to make critical decisions about processes that affect them.

To qualify as a leader, you must be doing something or going somewhere new. (The new thing doesn’t need to be extreme or bold – a faster process, different design, developing additional features, etc.) No significant leadership skills are required to stay within well-established boundaries.

Leadership takes vision and imagination to see something different than anyone else does – something that doesn’t yet exist. It takes courage and conviction to push beyond the fear of risk and speak out from the status quo so that others might join with you. It takes passion and dedication to push through the rejection of doubters content with sameness. It takes love and listening to connect with those who do join you and want to contribute their skills.

That might seem like a tall order at first. But one thing leadership does NOT need is a lot of people or policies. I am continuously amazed at how much a handful or two of connected leaders can change the world. In fact, leaders like this that are the only ones who DO change the world – one person at a time.

A version of this Ancient Chinese Leadership Poem has been with me for over 2 decades and continues to serve as a powerful reminder that everyone can be a leader.

Go to the people. Live among the people. Learn from them.
Love them
Start with what they know. Build on what they have.
But of the BEST leaders; when their task is complete and their work is done…
The people will say we have done it ourselves!

Who will you lead today?


* * * * *

david r frick is a business artist and founder of SuccessVentures – a consulting firm focused on helping owners and entrepreneurs through a holistic approach to building sustainably-growing companies that meet the needs of contemporary business environments. 

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