Leadership in the 21st Century

  • Conversation Summary

Will the way we think about leadership change in the 21st century? To that question, most of our readers agreed that the basic ingredients that contribute to a great leader — articulate visionary, effective motivator, strong people skills, ability to see the big picture, willingness to delegate — are timeless and still in strong demand. But in addition, many of our commentators put special emphasis on the need for leaders to act on and demonstrate integrity and principle, what Harvard Business School professor Bill George terms "authentic leadership."

"Personal leadership in the 21st century," wrote Yoana Petit, "is all about how you lead yourself in your own life." Faith has been lost in leaders who failed to match rhetoric with action, said Andrew Llanwarne.

Even so, leaders will emerge with new skill sets honed for the demands of today, several commentators observed. "Leadership in these chaotic and unpredictable times," said Edris Jackson, "calls for calculated, visionary implementation of ideas, drawn from a large pool of technical, intellectual, or other resources available to him/her."

More so than leaders in past generations, leaders in the 21st century need a global view and awareness of social responsibility. "Leaders must dig deep and muster up the courage and wherewithal to explain why the current trajectory cannot continue, and why we must live in more sustainable ways by saving more, consuming less, and being more environmentally friendly," wrote Jimmy J. Tran.

The good news, said Dan Lawson, is that managers and companies that follow ethical practices and invest in CSR will be rewarded by the market. "As the global recession continues to escalate, more people will be interested in investing and spending their money where it will accomplish the most good, for them and for society."

We all play a role in fostering great leadership, Tran observed. "As followers, we must expect and demand more than sugar coating from our leaders."

Conversation Leads

  • Nitin Nohria
    Richard P. Chapman Professor of Business Administration
    Senior Associate Dean, Director of Faculty Development

  • Rakesh Khurana
    Marvin Bower Professor of Leadership Development

Additional Resources

HBS Working Knowledge, an online forum featuring new work from HBS faculty, offers more from Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana and articles about leadership & management. And, if you like The Conversation, you may also enjoy What Do YOU Think?, an ongoing dialogue between Harvard Business School professor Jim Heskett and the readers of HBS Working Knowledge.