The End of the Visionary? Leadership in 21st Century


It wasn’t that long ago that being a leader meant being the most assertive, driven, autocratic and demanding person in the room. Exemplary leaders of the last few centuries have been innovators, thought leaders and icons with unshakably confidence in the direction they were leading their business. One can only imagine how intimidating and exhilarating it must have been to have the opportunity for an ‘audience’ with such a Chief. Indeed, who needed Klout, in a time when reportedly the likes of Jack Welch and Steve Jobs could cast their vote on your future success within seconds of meeting you, and watch lists of the Top 40 under 40 either made or broke your career aspirations.

In fact, many tomes still espouse the ideal scenario of the leader who sets a clear vision for the future and then works with his/her team to steer all efforts in that singular direction. Many discussions on change management continue to perpetuate the myth that all it takes to motivate people is to paint such a compelling and aspirational image of the future that people are eager to jump on board and do whatever it takes to get there.

Then Jim Collins set a ball rolling with the epic “Good to Great” suggestion that charismatic, celebrity leaders may not provide the greatest return on investment for their organizations. The humbler, more humanistic level 5 leader become an interesting dichotomy for those who aspired to the corner office enough to read Collin’s book. People started to question if unwavering (some might call dogmatic) determination to set a strategic direction and then continue to pursue the vision come hell or high water was the most appropriate model for business success.

Along with the shift introduced by Collins, has come a not-to-be-ignored groundswell of people looking for more purpose in their work.  Gen Y’s demands to be heard, the Linchpin’s drum beat of contribution, the Free-Agent and Drive nation stating that if their leaders wont recognize their talents they will up sticks and move elsewhere. All have crescendoed into the emergence of a new type of leader – The Leader as Facilitator.

The current batch of leaders to inspire a generation are clearly still assertive and confident in their own intellect and creativity. But there is space in their hearts and their egos for the contributions of others. They collaborate. They recognize and admit the areas where they are not strong and seek openly to complement their absence of strengths by working with others. They seek input, take direction and listen and support the ideas of others, sometimes in preference to their own. When they have a clear idea of what they’d like to do – they share it. When they are missing pieces of information, they state clearly what they know and where the gaps are and they ASK for help.

So, are you a 21st Century Leader?

  • When you are working with others, do you openly admit what you don’t know and seek help?
  • Do you appreciate and value the contributions of others, even when their views and approaches may be diametrically opposed to your own.
  • Do you welcome diversity of thinking and behaviour and see it as an opportunity to learn a new perspective?
  • Do you take accountability for your actions, and the impact you have on others around you? (intended or otherwise)
  • Do you promote and encourage others to think for themselves, try new things, experiment and even fail – without stepping in and trying to ‘correct’ them?
  • If people try, and stumble, do you support the learning they have accomplished?
  • Are you open to learning from those who are younger, less experienced or less educated than you are?
  • Are you willing to show your vulnerability, and your lack of knowledge, in order to open the door for new possibilities?

I know which kind of leader I aspire to be. And like the best role models I have had the pleasure to work with, I admit… I am a work in progress.  Long may I continue to learn and collaborate!

p.s. THANKS #UsGuys for the #UsBlogs challenge which inspires this post!  I look forward to reading the other posts & attaching their links as an update.

(Updated with the extended Roundup, Thanks Tom!)

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14 Responses to “The End of the Visionary? Leadership in 21st Century”

  1. Gaby, I really enjoyed this thoughtful post. It is an excellent summary of the transition in the thinking that is well underway.

    It is already clear that the millennial generation expects to work in a highly collaborative environment, facilitated by the type of leadership you describe.

    Thank you!

  2. Gaby,

    Amen! I love this line: “a level 5 leader become an interesting dichotomy for those who aspired to the corner office enough to read Collin’s book.” So me. I think I’m actually a level 6 or 7.

    Have you checked out Tony Robbin’s ‘Art of Servant Leadership’? It’s available for free on google books.

    It tells the story of an organization that underwent major systemic change b/c a leader that follow the model (and asked the questions) you’ve posited. Well done.

    I look forward to more #usblogs challenges!

  3. Gaby, bless you! As one of my most inspiring leaders once said to me “none of us is better than all of us.” I’m not looking for a benevolent dictator… I’m looking for someone I can partner with to achieve fantastic results. We’re all in this together. The sooner leaders get that, the sooner the results come…

  4. Awesome post! Love it and will check out #usguys and #usblogs for sure. 🙂

  5. Gaby, I see that we have similar taste in teachers, if your list would apply to those you’d like to have your kids take classes from!

    Those are truly the keys to being a dynamic and effective teacher, in my experience, and it is neat to see the young people today taking these concepts to heart.

    I fear though that human nature being what it is, the old-fashioned kind of leader will not vanish! I’ve even seen it in the Twitter stream. Some are better than others at “accepting” others, and time will tell whether this hampers their success.

    Either way, it is a grandly fascinating time to be alive! I’m glad I made it to this point! 😉

    • Hi Paula. Thanks for jumping in and yes, I would love my kids to learn some of the same lessons I’ve had the good fortune to learn.

      In my view – we need old school autocratic directional leaders just like we need middle of the road businesses. At least it gives us a backdrop against which to highlight the innovators and rule breakers who actually change the world one interaction at a time with their ways. I don’t want everyone to get it… shhhh it can be our little secret. (and yes, I will teach my kids everything I know and hope they blow it all up and make it up their own way!)

  6. Excellent!
    The list hits it hard. Are we open, honest, and charged up for others? So many still aren’t.

    Your post reminds me that great leaders are always building up those around them, in a way, seeking to build other leaders.

    Thanks and cheers,
    Todd
    @tojosan

  7. Great Post! We are at the collision point of the old new school and the new new school.

    I think the qualities of past leadership will not lose value, but may no longer need to be centralized in the 1 or 2 out of 10.
    The tools we have to work with now allow us a true-democratic means for dialogue and performance. Still is left to us though to do the work, pick up the discussion, and run with it.

    Studying it, Getting it, and Running with It are still traits a leader has, SM platforms make these traits more transparency (and perhaps further inspire others to embrace them)

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