21st century requires new sets of leadership skills

    A national crisis has convinced America of the need for new leadership. During the presidential election, Barack Obama promoted change, and John McCain promoted reform. A record number of voters cast their votes in favor of either change or reform. The message was delivered: America needs new leadership.

    An unprecedented transition is taking shape in an unprecedented time. President Obama promises a fact-based administration. He promises pragmatism over ideology. He is being touted as a new breed of leader.

    As the financial industry and the auto industry implode before our eyes, there is a spirited debate about whether the executives who led during the decline can lead during the recovery. The media is debating whether key industries need to change or retain executives.

    Clearly there are costs and benefits in either retaining or replacing current executives.

    It is clear that American industry needs a new breed of leader as well. Another pragmatic question arises: Can executives change?

    My colleagues and I have coached executives in Fortune 500 companies and small family-owned businesses, in North and South America, Europe and Asia. These men and women share more similarities than differences.

    Executives can change. They can also make the choice to learn the skill set of a new breed of leadership.

    Many factors influence their capacity to change. Two factors are key:
    (1) The executives who successfully strengthen their leadership capacity are highly self-motivated to change. They are hungry to strengthen their capacity to both manage and to inspire.
    (2) They welcome candid feedback. They exhibit the courage to invite hard truth and work diligently to overcome their blind spots. It can be a painful process, and, it is a privilege to witness.

    The new breed of leadership demands learning new skills. Daniel Pink, author of "A Whole New Mind – Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age," describes "…a seismic shift now under way in much of the advanced world. We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computer-like capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities of what is rising in its place."

    The most highly rewarded workers in the 20th century were knowledge workers: lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, executives. Knowledge will always matter, but it is no longer enough.

    According to Pink; the 21st century skills that will be rewarded are "ingenuity, personal rapport, and gut instinct." These skills are both invaluable and often not highly developed in executives who forged their careers and successes based on their knowledge levels.

    These are also skills that cannot be shipped overseas. Pink also adds "sometimes we need detachment; many other times we need attunement. And the people who will thrive will be those who can toggle between the two."

    Executives who take their leadership and inspiration to a higher level display the wisdom and maturity to toggle, to balance.

    • They learn to balance logic and vision.
    • They learn to balance speaking with listening.
    • They learn to balance predictability and spontaneity.
    • They learn to balance making rules and breaking rules.
    • They learn to balance process orientation and people orientation.
    • They learn to balance criticism and forgiveness
    • They learn to lead with head and with heart.


    Toggling between attunement and detachment may not be instinctual or easy. Balance never is. However, it is more pragmatic and more profitable. Research from the Harvard School of Business suggests that 80 percent of employees are disengaged or moderately engaged. Yet, engaged employees give more effort, greater performance and have less turnover. Engaged employees are inspired by more confident and connected leaders.

    Executives must continue to draw on the best of the knowledge economy while simultaneously adapting to the attunements of the inspirational economy.

    Futurist Alvin Toffler once said, "The future arrives too soon and in the wrong order."

    Indeed. The future has arrived, and it is demanding new leadership. The first executives to volunteer to change will be the new leaders. Inspiration will be rewarded. The reward will be commensurate with the risk and the investment.

    Will you volunteer to change?


    Cheryl Juech is a leadership consultant/coach with Vernal Management Consultants LLC in Milwaukee.

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