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Becoming a 21st Century Leader: Prepare Today to Meet Tomorrow’s Challenges

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November/December 1998 - Volume 77, Number 6

by Dr. James Canton

A new era is emerging. An era that requires a new breed of leader.

This new leader needs to have the ability to change and adapt quickly, with a future-smart eye on what is possible. The 21st Century Leader recognizes that without keeping an eye on the future, you may be doomed to remain a prisoner of the past. With this eye on the future, the 21st Century Leader welcomes innovation, embraces change, and thrives on chaos.

The 2st Century Leader also recognizes that only the smartest will survive the immense challenges of the future. The good news is that by preparing today we can successfully meet the challenges of the future. But what skills are necessary to survive in the it? What do you need to do today? How will this affect you? Why should you be concerned now? By developing a futurist-leader’s perspective, managers will learn new strategies for dealing with people and organizations.

Think You’re Too Busy to Worry About the Future?

Many leaders in business today seem so overwhelmed with their current workload that suggesting they prepare for the future may seem impractical. Just the opposite is true. By preparing today to meet tomorrow’s challenges, we set in motion a new leadership paradigm, one that will help better cope with today.

Understand the Challenge

We cannot hold back the forces of change. We cannot deny that our society and the very nature of business are changing daily. Yet some leaders resist change. Global commerce is redefining business in a virtually borderless world. But regardless of all of these changes, organizations will still need leaders to lead. The role of the leader in the 21st century will be even more critical to the success of the organization than it is today. Business will become more stressful, competitive, and chaotic. Leaders will be called upon to find order in chaos, fulfill customers and employees, and plan for tomorrow. It is the leaders who are the glue that will hold together the organization. Their intelligence and above all their ability to adapt will be valuable assets.

Embrace Change

There are leaders today that feel out of step with the future world that is growing up around them. These leaders need to learn new skills and new mindsets if they are to survive today and in the 21st century. It would be safe to assume that the 21st century will not be an easy, enjoyable, or stress-free time for business. But it will also be a time of great challenges, opportunities, profits, innovation, and imagination. Those leaders who understand this and have the foresight to prepare today to lay a foundation for learning, will be ahead of the game. Those that operate business as usual will be left behind. Preparing today for future challenges is a strategic endeavor worth every leader’s effort. Rather then deny the changing forces that are ushering us into the 21st century, leaders need to learn to ride these waves. By using change as an ally, even chaos can be instrumental to a leader’s game plan.

Adapt Intelligently

Above all else, the leader^P^P ^Ps ability to adapt to change will be a learning process. Much of the learning technology needed to fully cope with the challenges of the 21st century has yet to be developed. Nevertheless, a leader’s openness to change, capacity to take risks, ability to experiment, openess to new ideas, and appetite for innovation will greatly help. This is an exciting time to be a leader. The 21st century welcomes us.

Prepare Strategically

We need to develop a strategy so that we can navigate through these uncertain times. Remaining cautiously optimistic is not enough. A 21st Century Leader needs a 21st Century strategy. Regardless of how chaotic, confused or stressful the 21st century will be, by preparing today, leaders can successfully meet the challenges of the future. Don’t wait for the future to sneak up on you. A changing workforce, increased competition, a shifting marketplace, and a lackluster economy will all contribute to the high stress roller coaster ride into the 21st Century.

Being a 21st Century Leader means having a winning strategy that can maximize your leadership performance today and tomorrow.



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