On Leadership Challenges in the 21st Century

Leadership Challenges

One of the basic and fundamental challenges facing any thought leader in the area of leadership and leadership development is to correctly read the landscape in which their influence will be played out in the coming years.

Available literature on the topic, not surprisingly, is abound with observations, recommendations, and suggestions.

Future Leadership Challenges

In “Leadership in the 21st century” Professor Isabell Welpe makes the observation that leaders now face three types of challenges, being:

  1. Globalization and diversity – being able to effectively lead multinational companies and a racially diverse group of employees
  2. Acute talent shortage – arising from demographic changes in the Western societies
  3. A demand for flattened hierarchies – reflecting the demand of Generation Y for flattened hierarchies

Isabell concludes her analysis with this recommendation:

“Instead of focusing on leadership styles, leaders should concentrate on building trusting and just relationships with their followers. Showing positive emotions towards followers might be an effective tool to reach this goal.”

Future Leadership Wisdom

In “10 Things Every Leader Should Challenge” Mike Myatt suggests this

“Leading in the 21st Century affords no safe haven for 20th Century thinkers.”

And while it is easy to submit that the rules of leadership are timeless and are based on immutable truths, discussions with leaders (as in “Leading in the 21st Century“) suggest otherwise. They openly admit that:

“They are operating in a bewildering new environment in which little is certain, the tempo is quicker, and the dynamics are more complex. They worry that it is impossible for chief executives to stay on top of all the things they need to know to do their job. Some admit they feel overwhelmed.”

On Leadership and Self-Development

The abundance of challenges seems to suggest that the capacity of leaders to rely on self-development to enhance and up-skill their leadership capabilities is limited, if not out-right impossible.

This is the subject of a succinct article titled “The Limits of Leadership Development” by Brian Robertson. Brian makes the claim that attempts to elicit organizational transformation through leadership development results in short-lived improvements.

Leaders who are interested in broadening the transformational horizons of their respective organizations would therefor need to not only invest in their own development but will also nee this:

“To upgrade the way power and authority formally get defined, the way decisions get made, the way meetings happen, the way the organization is structured, and the processes used to define and execute day-to-day work.”

Brian’s suggestion is profound and implies two main messages:

  1. Leaders and organizations now need to grow together and the success of their development is dependent on each other.
  2. The Top-Down notion of leadership can no longer work and a bi-directional leadership model now needs to explored and adopted. Distributed and collaborative leadership seems to be a better model to adopt.

Leadership Horizons

The search for the magic leadership formula is unlikely to ever get resolved. As circumstances change then so will the expectations and the solutions need to adapt accordingly.

From the viewing platform we are all standing on we are likely to see or perceive different horizons.

My interpretation of the horizon is that the path forward is firmly grounded in increased business agility. This is not about applying leadership frameworks processes, but rather about implementing a set of values and promoting certain concepts.

And in the spirit of agility, this notion does not carry any prescriptive path. It can borrow from the work already done in the domains of Beyond Budgeting and Holacracy and can, and indeed should be adapted to suit the wishes, aspirations of the organization and its leadership.

So what are some of the challenges you are facing today? How are you facing them? Are you looking to control situations and outcomes, or are you looking toward the horizon with remedies in mind? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Shim Marom is a Melbourne, Australia based Project Management Consultant
He blogs and engages in Public, Forums and Online Discussions
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Image Sources: leadershipfreak.files.wordpress.com

L2L Contributing Author


  1. David Deane-Spread on January 7, 2014 at 8:39 am

    Wonderful observations and inputs! We truly have a challenge ahead to sustain effective leadership. I believe that we need to focus on remaining authentically connected; listen more and ask often; accept we know little; and forever learn and experiment; all with unconditional respect for one another and self. Then we won’t be overwhelmed. Then we can move forward into an unknown future – together.

    • Shim Marom on January 7, 2014 at 7:54 pm

      Thanks for your comment David. Fully agree with your observations.

  2. Jagoda Perich-Anderson, M.A.J on January 7, 2014 at 9:55 am

    Thanks for this annotated, list, Shim. I’m adding a couple of these to my “must read” list. I relate to the issues of globalization and diversity and the need for leaders to learn how to build trust and relationships with very different from themselves or their context of life experiences.

    • Shim Marom on January 7, 2014 at 7:54 pm

      Hi Jagoda, would love to know what else is on your “must read” list.

  3. ENNA A. BACHELOR on January 7, 2014 at 12:41 pm

  4. asimancas on January 10, 2014 at 12:11 am

    Reblogged this on Network of thought.