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Key traits of a 21st century leader

Global mega-trends such as globalisation and digitisation have raised the speed, scale and interconnectedness in which our world operates. Organisations today require a new breed of leaders to tackle these complexities. We take a look at four key traits a 21st century leader should ideally possess. 

Lead by inspiration, not rank

"The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things." - Ronald Reagan

Inspirational leaders of today lead not by the virtue of their position but by inspiring their employees to challenge themselves for a greater cause – a vision. In the book, “Built To Last”, authors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras discovered that visionary companies paid particular attention to cultivating excellent cultures and adhering to an ideology that transcends the pursuit of profits. As a 21st century leader, you should strive to align the aspirations of your employees to the vision of your company. Start doing so by listening to employees’ aspirations and cultivating an authentic work culture at your company.


"The art of communication is the language of leadership." - James Humes

As a leader, you may have an extraordinary vision for the employees you lead. However, if you are unable to articulate this vision effectively, you will not be able to inspire the people who work for you. Effective communication these days does not only refer to speaking and writing clearly. It is also about learning how to integrate new forms of communication such as social media and online collaboration tools into the organisation’s DNA.

Embrace the VUCA environment

No matter how successful you may become, always remember that your success could not have been achieved alone.


“We are moving from a world of problems, which demand speed, analysis, and elimination of uncertainty to solve, to a world of dilemmas, which demand patience, sense-making, and an engagement of uncertainty.” - Denise Caron

Leaders today are expected to thrive in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environments. Stakeholder relationships and processes within and around organisations have become increasingly dynamic and unpredictable. In order to thrive in the VUCA world, be consistently aware of the changing trends around you and plan your strategies early to remain flexible and agile. Do not be afraid to take intelligent and calculated risks. Cultivate a collaborative work environment with multi-disciplinary teams to tackle issues that may require creativity and innovation. 

Stay grounded

“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. “ - Lao Tzu

As you embrace the VUCA situations around you, do not lose touch of what matters most – relationships. No matter how successful you may become, always remember that your success could not have been achieved alone. Build, maintain and deepen your relationships with your employees. Nurture the basic values of trust, compassion and humility in all your interactions with your co-workers.

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