21st Century Leadership

I am currently in the process of attempting to hone what it is that impacts on the way leaders manage. Obviously this is informed by the context in which they lead. But it is no longer a context which can just be cut and pasted. I have been working with my partner, Dave Duarte on identifying and understanding what the issues are which will inform and drive a new leadership style. These have been my BETA conclusions and I would love the input from others especially as we have to present these findings next week to a bunch of senior executives of a not insignificant organisation.  

They relate to five arenas: 

  • Community Based Economies – the articulation from commodity to product to service to experience as the base of a community driven experience
  • Beta Testing – the realisation that consumers are forgiving and that we are Allowed to play in the arenas that may not immediately yield the Perfect but at least there is an allowance for the exciting which with their input may well become the important – God gets in through the cracks.
  • Social Networks – Getting away from the old adage which says we need to know everyone and instead focusing on those nodes of a network which really influence well and with the least effort
  • Ecological Innovation – Drawing on lessons from the environment which not only make us feel good but which genuinely harness profit in a way which does not strip mine the environment
  • Attention – The realization that the exhausting attempt to keep up with everything serves no one and attempting to use tools which hone our understanding of what value really means for our significant engagement in the world.


We are attempting to use these five places as a way to harness a different and important 21st century sensibility. I would welcome your insights.  


5 Responses so far.

  1. Dave says:

    I think there are interesting corollaries which flow from these…

    * As distribution and access to information becomes absolute, there is no place for secrets or shady practices. Be squeaky clean.
    * Products are Conversations. Prices of products are being driven downwards, but the services around those products are becoming more valuable.

    * Communities carry value: Buying and selling will occur as part of a flurry of messages between community members (a conversation), which will serve to heighten trust and facilitate purchase decisions.

    There are more, but I’d like feedback on these before I carry on:)

  2. Elaine says:

    The latest from Wired which supports this position.

  3. Darren says:

    Hi Elaine, interesting question.

    1st one I totally agree with. Technology is allowing communities to form rapidly around any product, service or experience. With or without the product/service/experience supplier.

    2nd one – some people and innovative companies have adopted this approach, not fearing failure [particularly companies that are not…um… technologically challenged, where innovation rules]. More traditional companies struggle with this one, as do older generations and perfectionists who still maintain that anything they consume must be nothing less than perfect. This group does seem to be shrinking though.

    3rd one I like and agree with, but very similar to 1st point to me.

    4th point is fantastic. I like it because it builds with future generations in mind!

    5th point is true, and quite ironic in light of the 1st and 2nd ones as many companies now try to build community upon community and just frustrate people at the same time. Attention management is certainly an art-form, one which very few have mastered. Both inside organisations and outside.

    Without expanding unnecessarily, two others which I would include are:
    1. Leaders develop new leaders, not followers [links into succession planning]. A company that continually develops leaders can grow [organically] much faster than one which keeps specific people in their places as long as possible.
    2. I love the quote that Tom Peters refers to: “Punish mediocre successes. Reward great failures.” – companies can’t be afraid to fail, and leaders need to instil this in everyone in the company from the top down.

    Hope this is of some use at least.

  4. Elaine says:

    Hi Darren. Thanks for you [excellent] feedback. I couldn’t agree with you more. Johnson & Johnson have this wonderful term called Excellent Failure which is the belief that only through prudent risk taking do you genuinely reach a point where you can create quality design for products. I think your point around succession planning is absolutely key and will definitely expand and include for our presentation. The difference for me between point 1 and 3 relates to the science of social networks. It was mind blowing for me to attend a talk on this arena and to see that it is in actual fact not useful to try and network with everyone and that in actual fact it was only at certain nodule points in the network where your engagement can mobilise support. There is a world expert we are bring out to SA on this – Dr Karen Stephenson – she is going to be doing a two day programme on precisely this in April at the GSB. Might be useful to check it out. Have attached the link for you to peruse.
    But thanks again for the time you have taken and for your very useful insights!

  5. Johann Coetzee says:

    Hi Elaine

    If you have more info on the work you are doing on this topic, please elaborate – especially considering you only listed your “beta” release in the initial post. I am holding my breath here.


    Johann Coetzee

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