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Future Leader: Leadership Development in the 21st Century:



Future Leader Series: Leadership Development in the 21st Century

Author James Siew, Partner Consultant, Agilitas Learning


According to the author of The Future Leader, Jacob Morgan once wrote that there are six trends that are continually shaping and defining the emergence of the 21st century “Future Leader.” This includes artificial intelligence and technological advances, globalization and a renewed war for talent. The current COVID-19 pandemic is also another major influencing factor, as natural disruptions also provide an impetus for change in the area of corporate leadership.

The urgent need to respond and upskill is now the order of the day for all aspiring future leaders. We will no doubt be living in a post-pandemic world where the ‘New Normal’ includes the hybrid workplace and a changed workforce. To prepare leaders to embrace these changes and succeed, we aim to equip them with more than just new mindsets and skills. We can also enable future leaders with the skills to balance the essential roles for balanced future-proof leadership.



Focus on Future-Proof Leadership


Leaders in the working world need to do more than merely strive to execute and achieve organizational goals. The effective leader, regardless of whether they are in the private or public sector, must balance the three key roles of the “Future-Oriented Complete Leader” (copyright J.Siew): Business Management, Strategic Leadership, and People Development. We developed this model based on a review of different perspectives on leadership—there are hundreds of articles and frameworks on the Internet, but how future-oriented must a leader be? What does “21st Century leadership” look like? Does it include new skills or new mindsets only?


Our inspiration was a camera and tripod. With a swap of lenses, the camera can ‘see’ far and wide, and capture a magnificent photograph. And a camera is provided support by a tripod—the tripod is flexible, and its legs can adjust and shift according to the environment to ensure that the camera stays balanced…and focused. The camera represents the leader. The three legs of the tripod represent the three areas which must be aligned to ensure that the camera stays balanced, and therefore focused. Imagine a leadership model that is represented by three legs of a tripod, supporting the leader.

The first leg is called “Business Management” and it is all about the daily operations of any function, department or division: It is about managing processes, managing people, managing the budget and ensuring operations run smoothly. The next leg represents “Strategic Leadership” which is future-oriented: it is about continuously learning and looking for new and improved ways of running the business and developing new approaches, products and services to better serve customers and stakeholders. Finally, the third leg is about “People Development”, which is also future-oriented: It is all about developing people for continued success and building the next generation of high-performing professionals and potential leaders. Every leader must balance all three roles effectively.

The question is, how much time, energy and resources do leaders put into all three legs?

A tripod cannot stand well on just one strong leg. All three legs are important. Balancing these three roles, coupled with developing critical new skills and fostering new mindsets is how we can help develop leaders.




Sustainable Leadership


The world was irreversibly altered in 2020 when COVID-19 ravaged lives and the economy. Ironically, COVID-19 did not cause the fall of the current economic model. It simply revealed its structural flaws. COVID-19 merely accelerated the path that we were already on.

Futurists have predicted the decline of the traditional form of capitalism-- the planet was already on this trajectory --on the grounds that it has revealed inherent imperfections, that such a system is simply not sustainable. Case in point: Many public-listed companies are expecting bail-outs from their government; These are the same companies that reported record profits year after year. Where did the money go, to warrant a bail-out? One of the answers is that the cash left the organization to be paid out as dividends to shareholders. These companies might be living quarter to quarter, doing all it can to maximize profits. The pressure to maximize profits translates into pressure to sell and produce, which results in an unending spiral. It’s not sustainable in the long run.


We are at a cusp of a “Post-Capitalist Era”. COVID-19 is an unprecedented disruption that accelerated the path towards this new economic model, one in which organizations might re-invent or re-align its core business to embrace sustainability management principles. Simply put, the world has already changed and this might be a good opportunity to innovate products and services better aligned to Sustainability principles (the Triple Bottom Line of Planet, People, and Profit). For some organizations, it might be in the form of adopting a corporate social responsibility ‘cause’ that supports the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as espoused by the United Nations.


The current system of capitalism favours the few at the top—the current COVID-19 is threatening the safety and survivability of people because most of the global economy is in a state of lockdown. Income inequality is real in most countries, and unemployment as a result of the lockdown is only adding to this problem. Therefore, the post-capitalist era is not replacing capitalism, but rather transcends it. Is it possible for a company to make money and therefore profits in more responsible ways? Is it also possible to innovate and find other ways for people to earn a living, and contribute to both society and the economy? Yes on both counts.


We are seeing a shift away from an all-consuming focus on maximizing shareholder value towards embracing sustainability principles (the Triple Bottom-Line: Planet, People, Profit). Sustainability management is the intersection of three elements: the environment, the needs of people (present and future generations), and the economy. It creates the ability of a system or organization to thrive by maintaining profitability and economic viability and also nourishing the needs of the present and future generations by ensuring environmental stewardship and responsible resource usage. Sustainability is also more than “saving the environment”—it also addresses the needs of “social justice” defined by the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society. Countries like New Zealand and Finland embrace sustainability and measure success in other ways other than “economic growth.” It is now up to leaders to adapt and learn new ways of doing things. Who knows, we might even be happier and better off in this new post-pandemic era.


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