Critical Attributes Necessary in the 21st Century Leader

Leadership Ahead

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“Men [women] are alike in their promises. It is only in their deeds that they differ.”  Moliére

Max De Pree’ book, Leadership is an Art, is appropriately named as leadership involves art or skills, characteristics or attributes that must be constantly developed, honed and practiced lest our skill sets become neglected and our leadership influence begin to wane. De Pree provides us with three attributes or characteristics essential to artful leadership:

  1. Personal integrity
  2. The indispensable knack for building and nurturing relationships
  3. Community building (1990, pp. viii-xii)

Whether we are a leader in a for-profit, non-profit, marketplace, or faith-based organization, leading in the 21st Century will become increasingly challenging. Michael J. Marquardt & Nancy O. Berger in their book, Global Leaders for the 21st Century, reinforce this challenge stating:

For organizations, the next century [this century] (and millennium) will bring much greater complexity and tougher challenges that we can only begin to imagine. We know that we can anticipate increasingly fierce competition, environmental catastrophes, and political, religious, and social strife, but also exciting technological breakthroughs about the world around us; all will contribute to a need for a special kind of leader (2000, p. ix).

These authors then go on to say:

New times demand new kinds of leaders. The global [church] world of the twenty-first century will require new, world-class leaders: leaders with a unique combination of attributes and personal characteristics. Leadership styles and skills that may have worked in stable, predictable environments will be inadequate in an era or radical uncertainty, or a time when organizations can’t even define the problem, much less engineer a solution (p.1).

Marquardt & Berger provide the following competencies or attributes that the successful twenty-first century leader will need to develop:

  1. Global mindset and competencies
  2. Teacher, coach, mentor, and model learner
  3. Servant and steward
  4. Systems thinking and poly-chronic coordination
  5. Spirituality and concern for ethics
  6. Technologist
  7. Innovator and risk-taker
  8. Visionary and vision-builder (pp. 18-32).

Andy Stanley addresses the topic of The Leader Worth Following in his book Next Generation Leader: Five Essentials For Those Who Will Shape The Future by reminding those of us as leaders:

 Your talent and giftedness as a leader have the potential to take you farther than your character can sustain you. That ought to scare you. The fact that people choose to follow you is not necessarily an indicator that you deserve to be followed. There is a significant difference between having a following and being worth following. The truth is that talented, charismatic, visionary people will most always have a following. Whether they are worth following is a different question, predicated upon a different set of values (2003, p. 151).

Notice the reoccurring theme that a leaders character, personal integrity, ethics are the baseline for critical attributes in 21st Century leaders. Stanley challenges those of us as leaders to ask ourselves these two questions:

  1. What small thing in my life right now has the potential to grow into a big thing?
  2. And who knows about it other than me? (p. 157).

Character always trumps competence. In Beebe’ book, The Shaping of an Effective Leader: Eight Formative Principles of Leadership, he provides us with eight principles of effective leadership (1) Character, (2) Competence, (3) Chemistry, (4) Culture, 5) Compatibility, (6) Convictions, (7) Connections, and (8) Commitment (p. 21). He shares the following quote from Peter Drucker that reflects De Pree’s characteristic of integrity, and Marquardt & Berger’ emphasis on spirituality and ethics:

Most Americans do not know what their strengths are. When you ask them they look at you with a blank stare, or they respond in terms of subject knowledge, which is the wrong answer…The final requirement of effective leadership is that a leader’s actions and a leader’s professed beliefs must be congruent, or at least compatible (p. 104).

Peter Drucker’s quote here continues to reinforce the importance of character in the life of today’s leader. Character never goes out of style. It is always in and needs to be the prominent dominant part of our leadership lives. No character, no followers. John Maxwell, The Right to Lead, states that the kind of leader others want to follow occurs when we exhibit these characteristics:

  1. Let go of your ego
  2. Become a good follower first
  3. Build positive relationships
  4. Work with excellence
  5. Rely on discipline, not emotion
  6. Make adding value your goal
  7. Give your power away

Maxwell believes that if we will do this as leaders we will earn the right as men and women to lead (pp. 6-8). Finally, Stanley provides us with some pertinent advice, a rubric if you please to use on a daily basis to protect our character on which all the other attributes, characteristics needed in a 21st Century leader are predicated on. He challenges us by saying:

Leaders worth following predetermine their response to invitations and opportunities that have the potential to sink them morally and ethically. While uncertainty is unavoidable in the external world of leadership, next generation leaders have no uncertainty when it comes to guarding their character (p. 155).

While it is true that everything rises and falls on/with the organization leader, it is also true that while we can have all or most of the above mentioned characteristics, attributes and then some; it remains however that without character we are nothing as leaders.

References: Listed in the article order of usage

Moliere “Quote” from John C. Maxwell, The Right To Lead: Learning Leadership Through Character And Courage (2009, Naperville, IL: Simple Truth, LLC), p.10.

Max De Pree, Leadership Is An Art (1990, New York, NY: Doubleday), pp. viii-xii

Michael J. Marquardt & Nancy O. Berger, Global Leaders for the 21st Century (2000, Albany, NY: State University of New York), pp. ix, 1, 18-32.

Andy Stanley, Next Generation Leader: Five Essentials for Those Who Will Shape the Future (2003, Sisters, OR: Multnomah Press), pp. 151, 157.

Gayle D. Beebe, The Shaping of an Effective Leader: Eight Formative Principles of Leadership (2011, Downers Grove, IL: IVP), pp. 21, 104.

John C. Maxwell, The Right to Lead: Learning Leadership Through Character And Courage (2009, Naperville, IL: Simple Truth, LLC), pp. 6-8.

Andy Stanley, Next Generation Leader, p. 155.

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