The 21st Century Leadership Model

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Steve Jobs.

Several years ago, a CEO was dropping me off at the airport following my speaking to his company. Like many fine CEOs, he’s what one might call a “bottom line” person. He invariably seeks to wrap up discussions on almost any topic, great or small, with the question: So… What’s the bottom line?

As his car wended its way through the airport intake, he posed the question: After all is said and done, what’s the bottom line on leadership? What’s the one thing it’s all about?

My mind was in part stimulated, in part exhausted after a long and very positive day.

Somewhat uncharacteristically, I struggled a bit in search of an apt response.

In the nick of time, as we approached my gate, it hit me. Service. Really, that’s all that those hundreds of pages and hundreds of hours of information and training are about. It’s all about service.

21st Century Leadership

That exchange helped crystallize my thinking, based on my own journey as a practitioner and student of leadership. Soon enough, events would underscore this direction. Along with many others, in the first decade of the new century I sensed the movement of tectonic plates. Leadership, including management and communication, is adjusting to the new world of the digital age.

Among the changes:

Instantaneous communication via the Internet, is much less expensive and near universally available; Information is becoming ubiquitous, and is, in many cases, free to anyone with an Internet connection; Unprecedented, radical transparency is removing the shrouds that have historically covered transactions and relationships; 

The value proposition underlying familiar, centralized institutions is being altered; Relationships are supplanting transactions as the fundamental interaction—with individuals increasingly able to start or stop relationships vis-a-vis large institutions that historically were beyond their reach; Widely dispersed information and empowerment is giving rise to new demands from the range of stakeholders.

The curtain is coming down on the monomaniacal, short-term shareholder value orientation of the late 20th century; Individuals, connected in various ways, sometimes acting in concert and in networks, are gaining power and influence vis-à-vis government, private and non-governmental organizations. In the doing, traditional boundaries separating sectors are being breached.

The result: 20th century, industrial age institutions and relationships are being supplanted by an emerging 21st century leadership model.


Trevor Lee


Executive Search & Interim Management since 2001
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