Profiling 21st Century Leaders

Leaders in the 21st century will be different. They will be challenged more than ever before and face one unprecedented situation after another. That is the prognosis of American authors and strategic business futurists, Roger and Joyce Herman.
The husband and wife team from Greensboro, North Carolina, will visit New Zealand for the first time later this month to tell New Zealand audiences what it takes to be successful 21st century leader. The dynamic duo have published 10 books, speak regularly in dozen countries, manage half dozen employees at their consultancy, and have built an international reputation for their insights into futurist trends. They also raised seven children.
The past, the say, will be helpful only as basis for examination, not because it will offer leaders pattern of solutions. The solutions of the future will be highly creative. They will require responses to unique circumstances that leaders simply will not expect. Given the events of recent weeks their comments, made prior to the September 11 attack on New York, were prophetic.
But good leadership, Roger Herman told me in telephone interview, is still largely driven from the “heart”. Most leadership skills are learned, experientially, though some qualities are innate. Herman and his wife teach tomorrow’s leaders what to look out for. “Managers are governed by the head, entrepreneurs rely on gut, and leaders consult their heart,” he says. And no matter how much our organisational environment changes, these generalisations will likely hold true for some time yet. Mind you, good leader uses all three anatomical components.
The Hermans believe 21st century leaders will need new style to effectively lead employees who in turn will be different from what leaders commonly encountered in the workplace last century. Leaders will need to relate to employees in ways that acknowledge and capitalise on their employees’ talents and abilities.
To explain why and how employees will be different Herman points out that, for instance, they no longer have lifetime employment expectations. They want to be led and not simply directed. They want to be “involved” in the organisations they work for. They want to be supported for the things they create and, they want to be acknowledged for their contributions.
This latter point is “most important”. “We have done lot of research into finding ways of locking individuals to the bottom line. People want to do what they want to do and leaders have to work out how to harness that.” The solution often involves giving them slice of the action.
Tomorrow’s leaders will lead more diverse workforce. More languages will be spoken and cultural diversity will “add an exciting and stimulating richness to the quality of work life”, he adds. The increasing cosmopolitanisation of New Zealand will become magnet for people seeking more “global-sensitive” communities. “The shifting values will create interesting new circumstances for community leaders from all walks of life.”
The Hermans believe research they conducted for two of their more recent books, How To Become An Employer Of Choice and How To Choose Your Next Employer, helped identify 12 important leadership elements which apply across different industry lines to create productive and collaborative work environment.
The elements do not create linear process, according to the Hermans, but rather establish series of elements which set the stage, provide sense of direction and clarify expectations. Individuals now pay more attention to where they work and they look for leadership. If they find it, their sense of satisfaction attracts other quality employees. The 12 elements which the Hermans promote help leaders become more obviously effective.
Leadership is, and will continue to be, important in retaining employees. Research also shows that the relationship an individual has with his or her immediate supervisor is the single most important factor in keeping the individual. The majority of those who leave an organisation, certainly in the US and presumably in New Zealand, do so because of their relationship with their immediate supervisor.
The 21st century leader needs to be inspirational – role model. “Leaders can’t motivate other people,” says Roger Herman. “People motivate themselves. Leaders can, however, create the environment in which people do motivate themselves.” This puts the leader in support role as coach, collaborator and facilitator.
The speed of change is an issue for tomorrow’s leaders. They will learn new ways to work with change. “Savvy leaders will embrace the process. With change as friend, leaders will be receptive to – even eager for – new approaches, new ways to work together and new ideas to develop,” say the Hermans.
Organisation structures will change during “the late first and second decades” of the 21st century. Insular hierarchical designs and their supportive cultures will shift to become more open frameworks. Companies will become more flexible, nimble and responsive to customer, supplier, investor and employee needs.
Leaders will be expected to build core competency strength and leave non-core activities to other organisations. New leaders will emerge from this outsourcing and insourcing process. According to the Hermans, some of them will be quite aggressive – not just participating but driving the new relationships.
The 21st century leader will be skilled in building collaborative communities and these skills will be in demand. Employers will recruit liberal arts graduates because of their ability to engage in multi-functional thinking, discussion and problem solving.
“Negotiation and persuasion skills will be valuable. So too will be the ability to coordinate, network and connect,” says Roger Herman. “Most managers don’t have these skills yet. Savvy leaders will acquire these competencies and learn to apply them inside and outside their organisations.”
And as we all know, the world will be customer driven. Effective leaders will build strong partnerships with customers. And, of course, they will be very technology savvy.
So where will tomorrow’s leaders come from? Some have already emerged but many are still in school. And, this will raise the eyebrows of sceptics of the New Zealand education system. “Educators will prepare the leaders that New Zealand needs. Leadership in that environment will, in large part, influence the country’s future,” say the Hermans. “Therefore today’s leaders from all sectors must involve themselves cooperatively with educators to craft set of competencies for tomorrow’s leaders.”

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