Transforming Paradigms for 21st Century Leadership

The world is changing more rapidly, in more contexts, than ever before. Technology seems redundant or obsolete just as soon as we understand how to use it. Restaurants open and close, trends change – so often to our surprise, and who knows what television show we should be watching on what streaming service and when? There are viral challenges, new social media platforms, photo apps to age us and others to turn us into rabbits. 

As trends and new apps come and go, we are welcoming more of the world into our smartphone and encountering more diversity, more ideas, more complexity in our workplace. This requires a change in leadership that rejects many paradigms that warn us “but that’s how it’s always done!”  

Leadership strategist Dov Baron writes, “For many in ‘old school’ leadership positions who are unfamiliar with allowing people to really see them, this can, of course, be scary and may even seem threatening.” Some of it might seem daunting, but so much of it is exciting when viewed through the lens of social impact and resources for a more just and sustainable world. But how do we transition from the “old school” to a 21st-century leadership model? Baron can summarize it succinctly: “In a word—by learning.”

“What if the C-suite, instead of relying on leadership consultancies to determine what exact shade of gray the personality of a leader is… had 21st-century tools and experiences that could crack open the gray to unite the leader with the unrestricted and innately visionary true self inside? A self that already knows how to lead and create from a place of interdependence, creativity, generosity, humility, transparency, vulnerability, love and betterment?” 
— 21st Century Leadership Development and a Return to Eden

To lead successfully in the 21st century does not just mean the mastery of new technologies or new languages. It means knowing oneself so that we may best use them to navigate cultural differences, generational gaps, and organizational designs and systems. 

To lead successfully in the 21st century, we first must take an internal stock of ourselves, of our strengths, our cultural identities, and our conversational capacities. 

When we assess our own strengths, we learn: 

  • How our ideas can most efficiently and effectively become action. 
  • A vocabulary to describe our work and to convey our needs. 
  • An understanding of what fuels us, what needs improvement, and what work is best aligned with our values.
  • Improved capacity for patience and encouragement for our team and partners.

Cultural norms are deeply ingrained in our personalities. It’s common to interpret these differences as disruptions and inconveniences, or even a threat to what we’re trying to accomplish when communicating… Developing cultural competence — the ability to effectively work with others from varying cultural backgrounds — will help you transcend these interpretations and accomplish your goals with fewer barriers.” 
— Why Leaders Need Cultural Competence

When we embark on a journey towards cultural competence, we learn:

  • How to be aware of our own power and privilege.
  • How to use this power and privilege to work towards justice, equity, and sustainability rather than against it.
  • How to build alliances across cultures.
  • How to use cross-cultural understanding for more effective problem-solving through new perspectives, ideas, experiences, and strategies.

As the accumulation of knowledge becomes less and less valuable, every human interaction will have greater value. Therefore, we will require greater levels of emotional intelligence, conversational intelligence, relational intelligence and the ability to navigate human dynamics.” 
— Thriving in the AI Revolution!

When we uncover our own conversational blindspots for more effective dialog, we learn:

  • How to engage our team and partners more authentically.
  • How to use conversation as a transformative action rather than a rote exercise or output of information.
  • How to build trust through thoughtful listening, positive conversation, and respectful feedback.
  • How to use conversation for creative problem-solving, empathy-, and purposeful progress.

These core understandings of ourselves are the first steps towards thoughtful and collaborative leadership that can embrace the challenges of an ever-changing and ever-expanding workforce. They are why I, even after decades of leadership experience in the social sector and now as a leadership coach and organizational consultant, continue to invest in development and personal growth opportunities. Knowing that individuals at every stage of their career often need a check-in, a catalyst, or a full-fledged reboot inspired me to launch the Vista Leadership Institute in 2016 and to continue to grow its programs today. 

We need leaders that can leverage talents and strengths, that can work intersectionally, across cultures and generations with open hearts and minds to achieve global impact and sustainability.


Let’s talk more about these critical leadership skills…