Leadership in the 21st Century


Leadership is one of the primary skills that every entrepreneur and manager is obliged to develop for an appropriate organisation of one’s business and other processes that might be related to teamwork. Leaders also must have professional skills in scheduling, time management, allocation of resources, and delegating responsibilities among their auxiliaries. Various traditions and standards of high-quality management have been significantly changing within the last thirty to forty years. Such a rapid development in the given sphere is caused by technological progress, various helpful devices, and machines that replace people and their workforce.

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Therefore, leadership in the twenty-first century does not have much in common with the same occupation several decades ago. Many people who were involved in leadership for an extended period had particular difficulties with adaptation to modern standards. This topic is essential in the contemporary community as almost every person strives to become the best at one’s profession. To reach this goal, it is necessary to develop and learn leaders’ core competencies, behaviours, capabilities, and legal or moral rights. The following paper is intended to review and discuss the literature that focuses on the topic of leadership in the twenty-first century with the help of credible and academic sources, which will give an ability to conduct the most accurate analysis to evaluate the subject mentioned above.

Key Competencies for 21st Century Leaders

Leadership plays a significant role in every company that exists in the twenty-first century. Therefore, it is essential for employees to comprehend the core competencies for modern leaders (Noumair et al., 2013, p.36). It would be proper to mention that managers of any firm are responsible for all the work performed by their team members and auxiliaries. Hence, the first necessary quality for contemporary leaders is the sense of responsibility for other people and their labour (Noumair et al., 2013, p.36). The following list enumerates all the necessary competencies that should be learned and engaged by modern leaders:

  • Self-confidence. A person who occupies the position of a team leader must remain an example to one’s colleagues. Northouse (2016) claims that it is important to evaluate personal abilities accurately to demonstrate specific skills required by a certain industry to teach other employees properly.
  • Charisma. This quality is highly appreciated and valued by people who surround their leaders on a daily basis (Goleman et al., 2016). An original approach to one’s work tasks and specific style of accomplishing regular missions altogether determine the level of person’s professionalism and creativity. Daft (2014) stresses that it is essential to remain independent of other people’s thoughts in various activities as such a philosophy might not give a worker ability to develop his or her personal comprehension of a particular job.
  • Appearance. As modern people live in the age of knowledge, innovative technologies, and fashion, they should maintain an attractive appearance and follow all the primary hygiene rules on a daily basis. According to Antonakis and Day (2017), this minor effort makes other colleagues want to communicate with their leader. Also, clothing plays a significant role in various negotiations with partners or superiors as a person’s outfit gives other people a general understanding of their companion’s nature and lifestyle.
  • Allocating resources. Usually, leaders are not limited to such resources as workforce, money, and time (Renz and Herman, 2016). However, a professional manager is able to use these things wisely and receive as much benefit as possible from a developed strategy. According to Komives and Wagner (2017), some people do not have enough experience to allocate resources available to them. As a result, they might fail to complete their tasks due to the absence of resources management skills.

Although the points mentioned above do not include all the key competencies that should be adopted by leaders in the twenty-first century, these are the basic requirements that must be considered and constantly practised by every leader (Shapiro and Stefkovich, 2016). Otherwise, the development of other professional skills and capabilities is unlikely to be successful. As it is possible to see, personal traits and habits are the most important elements in contemporary leadership (Klenke et al., 2016). Therefore, managers who are responsible for their working teams should have appropriate characters and other individual qualities that might help them in their professional activities.

It would be proper to mention that the great man theory of leadership that was widely used in the governments of different countries several centuries ago implies only one gender’s competence to perform appropriate leadership activities and practises. According to the classical themes of leadership, only males were wise and intelligent enough to be responsible for different groups of workers (Cashman, 2017). Unfortunately, some companies preferred to hire only men as leaders. Galloway et al. (2015) claim that the significant part of the world’s population did not trust women and thought that they were not able to make proper decisions. Although this theory’s ideas are disregarded in the modern world, the owners of some businesses do not let women occupy high positions in their companies.

Many businessmen, who experienced both classical and modern leadership models, noticed significant changes in their activities and responsibilities. For instance, Alex Ferguson (former manager of Manchester United FC) has experience of building a professional soccer team from the lowest starting position possible (Elberse, 2014). He inspired every player of his team to become stronger and better every day. Therefore, sir Ferguson’s leadership activity was based on high moral rules and individual values of every team member. Inspiration is another key competency of modern leaders.

It is necessary to mention that some CEOs (chief executive officers) that occupy this position in their companies for the first time, always try to focus on performing different leadership tasks properly (Webb et al., 2016). However, it is more important to implement certain actions that would be beneficial in particular situations. Leaders should aim at the appropriateness of their strategies, instead of their righteousness.

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In general, leadership is a number of skills that are aimed at the productive organisation of a team or a working process. It manifests itself across different industries by implementing the same rules and strategies to different kinds of professional activities. The common thread of leadership found across industries implies personal values of managers and their contribution to work.

Modern and Classical Leadership Capabilities

Before discussing the question of similarities among the capabilities of modern and classical leadership, it would be proper to outline several basic rules that should be followed by any person who remains in the head of a certain group of employees. The following list will enumerate all the qualities that should be considered by managers:

  • Knowing and using personal advantages and disadvantages. Once a person knows his or her character’s good and bad sides, this individual is able to use one’s qualities appropriately (Ciulla, 2014). Sometimes, this ability is essential in such situations as important negotiations or accomplishing particular tasks.
  • Discovering colleagues and partners. Every leader should understand people that he or she works with on a regular basis (Rock, 2013). When delegating missions and duties among colleagues, it is necessary to be aware of particular predispositions of these employees to implement efficient practises in the activities they are required to perform.
  • Always remain a team. One of the fundamental leadership duties is an ability to maintain good relationships with every team member. According to Hackman and Johnson (2013), colleagues are obliged to help one another in tricky situations. Therefore, work in a team is much more appreciated than the demonstration of separate skills performed by every participant (Tannenbaum, 2013). Leaders are obliged to encourage their auxiliaries and colleagues to develop mutual understanding and contribute to the decision making process.
  • Protecting one’s values and principles. As it is mentioned above, every leader must live and work according to his or her professional or personal values and principles. Parkay et al. (2014) state that this concentrates person’s attention on things that are important for one’s team members and individual benefits. Therefore, every decision should be built on these values.
  • Creative approach to competitiveness. These two terms are interdependent as both of them force the development of each other (Western, 2013). For instance, creative leaders are more likely to deal with all the competition problems, whereas the success of other firms on the same market obligates managers to be creative.

Kron et al. (2016) claim that modern leadership competencies do not have many differences with classical rules that must be followed by professional managers. However, individuals who are responsible for particular groups of employees in the twenty-first century should know all the contemporary standards of their profession (Buck, 2014). As there are many technologies and management theories intended to help leaders in their everyday activities, they should always practise and undergo different qualification courses. Bennis (2015) says that maintaining such a lifestyle makes these people competitive and their work more efficient.

However, Jaques (2017) thinks that there are also a plethora of similarities among modern and classical leaders’ key competencies. For instance, managers always have to remain self-confident and follow their individual values in any activity they perform. Also, leaders must be competent in delegating tasks among their auxiliaries (Han, 2014). It would be proper to state that classical rules of the discussed profession should be referred to as to the fundamental qualities and requirements for people who strive to become effective managers. On the other hand, all the competencies popular in the twenty-first century must be perceived as the advanced level of one’s professional education (Haeger and Lingham, 2013). There is no doubt that contemporary rules are important. Nevertheless, they do not seem to be necessary at the beginning of leaders’ careers.

It is essential to stress that leaders in the twenty-first century also must have appropriate skills in project management as this is one of the most important spheres of knowledge that is useful in one’s everyday work (Oconnell, 2014). Nowadays, the values of leaders are different as they want to reach particular heights not for gaining higher profits but to demonstrate their organisational skills and remain competitive with the first companies figuring on particular markets. According to Bush (2013), modern leaders must always know all the aspects of different tasks performed by their team members and colleagues. Such an approach makes a manager aware of his or her colleagues’ performance, advantages, and disadvantages. Moreover, leaders in the twenty-first century should be experienced in all spheres of their profession to delegate the available resources and workforce properly (Ayub et al., 2014). Several decades ago, this factor of work organisation was disregarded. Therefore, employees could have their own financial benefits from lying to their leaders.

Causes of Changes to Leadership Competencies

As it is mentioned above, there are many underlying causes of changes to leadership competencies. For instance, the strategies of leaders’ organisational behaviours have significantly changed to due to the standards of their work that were developed by many managers as a result of their long-term experience (Lee, 2014). Also, such events as planning and delegating responsibilities require original approaches from managers. Mccarthy (2017) argues that several decades ago, leaders were free to give any duties to their auxiliaries, regardless of the workers’ desires. Today, superiors must consider their colleagues’ interests. Such an approach is recommended as it is deemed to be more effective and productive to give people the tasks that they will be doing gladly (Bolman and Deal, 2017). Although this strategy seems to be beneficial, it deprives leaders of the freedom to have their own understanding of similar situations and take decisions accordingly.

It would be proper to stress that the range of leadership competencies has become narrower than it used to be in the previous century. Park and Seo (2016) claim that the most part of organisational work and various calculations are performed by computers today. Indeed, such innovations are very helpful and reduce the time required for filling different reports, tables, schedules, and so on (Dinh et al., 2014). Nevertheless, this is another underlying cause of changes to leadership competencies. Due to the better and faster ways of organisations, managers are obliged to contribute to other duties as well (Meuser et al., 2016). For instance, some companies require the leaders of their working teams to build individual plans of development for every employee. As a result, inexperienced workers have more chances to obtain the understanding of their primary responsibilities, rights, corporate rules, and so on (Ruwhiu and Elkin, 2016). As it is discussed in the previous section, the popularisation of useful computer programmes had a significant impact on different professional activities of managers. As they need less time to accomplish all the planning work, they must pay more attention to the quality of the work performed by their auxiliaries.

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Critical Analysis of the Academic Research

Leadership activities in the twenty-first century are influenced by modern technologies. Therefore, all the managers are obliged to change their strategies and behaviours at work. Unfortunately, there are many examples of poor leadership in the twenty-first century. For instance, the Shell Company working team in America made a mistake that influenced the leak of approximately two thousand barrels into Gulf of Mexico (Milman, 2016). This situation demonstrates the team leaders’ inability to organise the working process appropriately. Hambleton (2014) says that it is a managers’ responsibility to predict all the possible defects and make one’s auxiliaries address the emerged problem immediately. This case might be identified as the lack of authentic leadership.

Many leadership studies started to use the term of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) since the 1990’s. This abbreviation and strategy description originated from the army of the United States of America. Nowadays, this term is widely used in the circles of leaders to refer to different efficient organisational strategies in a wide range of spheres (Küpers and Pauleen, 2013). VUCA includes many topics that are essential to be studied by contemporary managers. For instance, people, who remain in the head of professional employee groups, must know that their auxiliaries’ failures that might have positive consequences if these workers use the acquired knowledge to prevent similar situations in the future (Antonakis and House, 2013). Such an approach might be considered an example of decent leadership.

A crisis management theory is one of the most important elements of the VUCA. “Executives who enable their organisations to recover from a crisis exhibit a complex set of competencies in each of the five phases of a crisis—signal detection, preparation and prevention, damage control and containment, business recovery, and reflection and learning” (Wooten and James, 2008, p. 352). Indeed, the given theory and its models can be successfully implemented in the twenty-first century. Moreover, it was used by leaders several decades ago as it remains a helpful approach to resolve various issues that lead to the organisational crisis. According to Kane and Patapan (2014), the disadvantages of the theory described above include the possible risks of slow reaction. By the time leaders address the issue of the organisational crisis in their firms, it is usually diffused and presents more difficulties to eliminate it properly (Porter-OGrady and Malloch, 2015). It is necessary to state that the most part of this model is based on learning and analysing different outcomes to prevent them in the future.

Sometimes, people do not understand the differences between such terms as management and leadership. Nevertheless, the primary responsibilities of managers include such activities as organising, planning, providing financial means, monitoring the working progress, and coordinating their employees (Algahtani, 2014, p. 74). Moreover, managers must provide appropriate resources to their auxiliaries that are necessary to complete the work appropriately. In general, management might be referred to as to the process that is used to reach particular goals (Caldwell and Hasan, 2016). On the other hand, modern leaders are supposed to focus on their team members’ motivation, performance, and behaviours (Algahtani, 2014, p. 75). Also, leaders are responsible for their colleagues’ inspiration that is usually gained with the help of methods that demonstrate one’s professional skills and achievements or successes in a certain sphere. Nevertheless, one person might be liable for both management and leadership in one’s organisation (Kotter, 2008, p. 89). It is essential to stress that the professions described above are dependent on each other. It is almost impossible to manage the working process without leadership qualities and vice versa.


As it is mentioned above, there are a plethora of factors that influenced multiple changes in the philosophy and central ideas of leadership in the twenty-first century. Managers are now supposed to practise and develop new skills and strategies to operate the work of their teams appropriately (Oconnell, 2014). Many scholars stress that the general understanding of leadership has always been changing due to people’s values and standards of mutual work set by the society. It would be proper to mention that the majority of leaders, who experienced the shift between both modern regime and that of the previous century, find it difficult to adapt to contemporary key competencies (Bennis, 2015). Leadership in the twenty-first century requires people to inspire their colleagues to increase their productivity and commitments to their professional responsibilities.


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