7 Evolving Leadership Qualities for the 21st Century

Change is the only constant.  As corporations and workforces evolve, so must their leaders.  Luke Iorio, President and CEO of the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC), offers seven key strategies leaders can take to increase engagement and foster success throughout the organization. — Maurice Gilbert

evolutionAre we on Leadership 2.0? 3.0? 17.0?

Regardless of which version of leadership we’re on now, today’s socially-driven, information-rich economy is based on engagement.  Conversations of all kinds (formal or informal, social or professional or otherwise) need to be engaging and offer an invitation for anyone interested to get involved – and as they get involved, they become more committed, motivated and informed.

Leadership must evolve to embrace these new dynamics.  Leadership must focus on engagement – creating dialogue, stirring up participation and driving people to focused, purposeful action.

The “new leadership” model brings seven new critical success factors to the forefront:

  1. Getting Personal with Engagement
    People engage when they see themselves – their values, personal interests, vision and/or purpose – in what they are about to do.  Leaders, of course, need to lay out the corporate vision; however, it cannot stop there.  Leaders must speak with and help employees put themselves into this overall vision.  Only when employees contribute to their jobs, teams and departments in a manner that’s consistent with their values and motivation will they fully commit and contribute to the overall company vision.  Leaders can help employees bridge any perceived gaps between personal and corporate visions so that they are in alignment.
  2. Preparing for Now
    Impatience and our need for immediate gratification can finally be put to good use!  Leadership boils down to the moment of interaction – and in that moment, you can choose to influence and impact in ways that can be seen and felt immediately.  To do this, you must be intentional as to how you are going to use these thousands of moments (i.e. chances) that you get each day with your employees.  Don’t get caught up in the pressure cooker or spun into a frenzy, reacting to each new issue that comes up. Try intentionally setting up your guiding principles for how you want to show up as a leader in these moments.  You know these moments will occur, so plan for them and you can be prepared and present in the moment, right when your employees need you the most.One such intention you can apply: I’ll always ask my employees to slow down and verbalize what they know about what’s going on; I’ll then acknowledge what they’ve said, confirm what they seem to be feeling and help them think through their thoughts (not my own, initially) as to what we can do to solve the issue.
  3. All Leading Always in All Ways
    As has been said before, “Authority is a poor substitute for leadership.”  Job titles don’t indicate leadership.  In fact, energy, influence and emotion are more salient elements of leadership than ever before.  The democratization of information means power has shifted to those who know how to get answers (rather than those who think they already know the answers).  Combine that with how social networks (online or offline) have democratized participation, and thus leadership can come from any angle at any time.Leaders must then remember that their energy leads more loudly than their position, that they are far more visible than ever before and that brilliant, spot-on ideas and contributions can come from any direction.
  4. Valuing Shifting Values
    Values for job security, steadiness (or predictability) and a fair paycheck have given way to autonomy, growth (through change) and performance incentives balanced with quality of life incentives.  Today’s workers are now seeking jobs and companies that align with their values.  Even in a tough job market, it’s often about finding “more than a job.”  Self-expression, transparency and openness, fulfillment and passion are now words and expectations that leaders must consider as they lead a new generation of employees.  Leaders must consider how to balance and align their own values with those of their organizations and their employees.  Discussing values to define them together (not just individually) is becoming more and more important and is part of the role of a leader.  Consider for yourself how much more you have given to jobs and organizations where you had a shared value system.  How can you facilitate this conversation with your team and within your organization?
  5. Trend Spotting
    Connecting the proverbial dots is an invaluable quality in this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environment.  Due to the complexity and seeming uncertainty of our fast-paced business world, it’s easy to get lost in the details and the tasks.  Leaders see this happen to their employees all the time, but don’t pay enough attention to the same thing happening to themselves as well.  Leaders and the teams they lead need to be able to step back from the details and supposed chaos and look for patterns – similarities between what’s occurring now and past experiences (even if not directly related in content), and to separate what’s working from what’s not working (and see what underlying patterns or trends can be found).When leaders step back from a situation, they can gain a greater sense of perspective, typically from seeing more of the context (i.e. the elements surrounding what’s going on, not simply looking only at the issue itself).  Context allows you to identify contributing factors that may not have been immediately identifiable – and that may reveal patterns for what is occurring.
  6. Working the Network
    It’s undeniable that you now work in a networked environment, whether socially, or “to get the job done;” you have those people in your network that you go to more often than others and those “go-to” people are the hubs that connect a great many people.  Leaders need to know not only who their hubs are, but how those hubs are enabling or limiting their people network.  Are those hubs energetically uplifting and engaging the rest of the network?  Do they fuel performance and raise the abilities of others?  Or are they toxic, bottle-necking or even wasting the energy, effort and capability of the people they connect with?As the leader, how are you leading those hubs?
  7. Customizing for the Masses
    Leaders need to strike a challenging balance – gaining efficiency from scale and systems, yet customizing approaches and strategies to recognize the unique traits of each individual they lead.  Two principles from advances in learning approaches can help here.  First, having relatively standardized options is a good start – providing leaders the ability to offer some choices to employees for training, development, benefits, career growth, etc.  This isn’t 100 percent unique for every individual, but it does start to provide options that allow them to “build their own” growth path.The second aspect that builds on this is coaching.  Among many things, coaching enables an individual to take universal principles or experiences and relate them to his/her specific circumstances, wrestling through how it could look and apply for them.  This process enables something that was standard or more universal to become highly customized and integrated to who that individual is, and all that is required to coach them through this process is the most overlooked leadership resource we have: the effective conversation.  This type of coaching requires training and skill; however, it goes a long way to creating the customized mass approach that leads to a highly engaged culture.

Leadership is evolving at a fast pace, whether leaders like it or not.  These qualities set an underlying framework that help to evolve with the changes.  Leadership in the 21st century needs to remain agile, flexible and adaptable because the only certainty is that more change is coming.


Luke IorioLuke Iorio, President & CEO of iPEC, came to iPEC from the marketing and management consultant industry. Working with entrepreneurs, he quickly found the missing ingredient between those that succeeded and those that didn’t: Engagement! Making the switch from consultant to coach, Luke empowers individuals to fully and powerfully engage in all that they do, having a positive and contagious impact on all those they touch in both their personal and professional lives. Playing full out, Luke brings a tremendous amount of energy, passion and focus to everything he does. Since 2005, Luke and his team have now graduated more than 6,000 coaches and Coach Centric™ leaders across multiple platforms – top executives in Fortune 500s, pioneering entrepreneurs, incredible nonprofit founders and educational leaders and professional athletes. Luke has an avid interest in human potential, engagement, and performance. Through coaching sessions with hundreds of clients as well as varied research projects, he seeks out the common threads that produce exceptional individual and team successes. He’s also an avid blogger and expert resource, having been quoted in The Huffington Post, Fox Business, andNext Avenue, among many other publications.

Published by Conselium Executive Search, the global leader in compliance search.  

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