Leadership Needs in the 21st Century

The world of business is ever-changing, which brings new challenges for leaders. To continue to be effective, they will have to learn and embrace new leadership models based on globalization, decentralization, and diversity needs, to name a few. Read this article to learn about the challenges leaders face and think about how data-driven decision-making will help them meet them.

How Do Different Approaches and Styles of Leadership Impact What Is Needed Now?

Frequent headlines in popular business magazines like Fortune and Business Week call our attention to a major movement going on in the world of business. Organizations are being reengineered and restructured, and network, virtual, and modular corporations are emerging. People talk about the transnational organization, the boundaryless company, the post-hierarchical organization. By the end of the decade, the organizations that we will be living in, working with, and competing against are likely to be vastly different from what we know today.

The transition will not be easy; uncertainty tends to breed resistance. We are driven by linear and rational thinking, which leads us to believe that "we can get there from here" by making some incremental changes in who we are and what we are currently doing. Existing paradigms frame our perceptions and guide our thinking. Throwing away paradigms that have served us well in the past does not come easily.

A look back tells most observers that the past decade has been characterized by rapid change, intense competition, an explosion of new technologies, chaos, turbulence, and high levels of uncertainty. A quick scan of today's business landscape suggests that this trend is not going away anytime soon. According to Professor Jay A. Conger from Canada's McGill University, "In times of great transition, leadership becomes critically important. Leaders, in essence, offer us a pathway of confidence and direction as we move through seeming chaos. The magnitude of today's changes will demand not only more leadership, but newer forms of leadership".

According to Conger, two major forces are defining for us the genius of the next generation of leaders. The first force is the organization's external environment. Global competitiveness is creating some unique leadership demands. The second force is the growing diversity in organizations' internal environments. Diversity will significantly change the relationship between organizational members, work, and the organization in challenging, difficult, and also very positive ways.

What will the leaders of tomorrow be like? Professor Conger suggests that the effective leaders of the 21st century will have to be many things.

They will have to be strategic opportunists; only organizational visionaries will find strategic opportunities before competitors. They will have to be globally aware; with 80 percent of today's organizations facing significant foreign competition, knowledge of foreign markets, global economics, and geopolitics is crucial. They will have to be capable of managing a highly decentralized organization; movement toward the high-involvement organization will accelerate as the environmental demands for organizational speed, flexibility, learning, and leanness increase. They will have be sensitive to diversity; during the first few years of the 21st century, fewer than 10 percent of those entering the workforce in North America will be white, Anglo-Saxon males, and the incoming women, minorities, and immigrants will bring with them a very different set of needs and concerns. They will have to be interpersonally competent; a highly diverse workforce will necessitate a leader who is extremely aware of and sensitive to multicultural expectations and needs. They will have to be builders of an organizational community; work and organizations will serve as a major source of need fulfillment, and in the process leaders will be called on to help build this community in such a way that organizational members develop a sense of ownership for the organization and its mission.

Finally, it is important to note that leadership theory construction and empirical inquiry are an ongoing endeavor. While the study of traits, behavior, and contingency models of leadership provide us with a great deal of insight into leadership, the mosaic is far from complete. During the past 15 years, several new theories of leadership have emerged; among them are leader-member exchange theory, implicit leadership theory, neocharismatic theory, value-based theory of leadership, and visionary leadership, each of which over time will add to our bank of knowledge about leaders and the leadership process.

Leaders of the 21st-century organization have a monumental challenge awaiting them and a wealth of self-enriching and fulfilling opportunities. The challenge and rewards awaiting effective leaders are awesome!

  • What is the role of leadership in the 21st century?
  • How do different approaches and styles of leadership impact what is needed now?

Leadership in the high-involvement organization differs dramatically from that in the traditional and control-oriented organization. Leaders external to the team have as one of their primary roles empowering group members and the teams themselves to self-lead and self-manage. Leaders internal to the team are peers; they work alongside and simultaneously facilitate planning, organizing, directing, controlling, and the execution of the team's work.

Although we know a great deal about the determinants of effective leadership, we have much to learn. Each theory presented in this chapter is put into practice by managers every day. None provides the complete answer to what makes leaders effective, but each has something important to offer.

Finally, our understanding of leadership has many shortcomings and limitations. The existing literature is largely based on observations from a Western industrialized context. The extent to which our theories of leadership are bound by our culture, limiting generalization to other cultures, is largely unknown. Cross-cultural leadership research will no doubt intensify as the global economy becomes an ever more dominant force in the world.

Review Questions

  1. Define leadership and distinguish between leadership and management.
  2. Discuss the processes associated with people coming to positions of leadership.
  3. Discuss the different forms of power available to leaders and the effects associated with each.
  4. It has been observed that effective leaders have the "right stuff". What traits are commonly associated with leader emergence and effective leaders?
  5. Both the Ohio State University and University of Michigan leadership studies identified central leader behaviors. What are these behaviors, and how are they different from one another?
  6. Blake and Mouton’s work with the Leadership Grid® identified several leadership types. What are they, and how does this leadership model look from the perspective of situation theories of leadership?
  7. Identify and describe the three situational variables presented in Fiedler's contingency theory of leadership.
  8. What are the four leadership behaviors in the path-goal theory of leadership?
  9. Discuss the differences between the internal and external leadership roles surrounding self-managed work teams.
  10. What are substitutes for leadership? What are neutralizers? Give an example of each.
  11. What are the distinguishing features of the transformational and the charismatic leader?

Source: OpenStax, https://opentextbc.ca/principlesofmanagementopenstax/chapter/leadership-needs-in-the-21st-century/
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