Magazine Article | September 2, 2014

25 Essential 21st Century Leadership Skills

Source: Life Science Leader

By James Strock

There are aspects of effective leadership that speak across time. For example, even after more than 150 years, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address still resonates. Vince Lombardi’s coaching for excellence is every bit as timely now as 50 years ago. Nonetheless, one also recognizes differences. Would Lincoln have been able to succeed in today’s media environment? Would Lombardi’s “tough love” approach be accepted in our time? No one knows how historical figures might fare today, yet we can isolate leadership lessons that meet the needs in our time and place. The list that follows attempts to capture enduring leadership lessons within the unique, fast-moving circumstances of the early 21st century.


  1. Service focus: In the Information Age, everyone is a potential relationship. A service mentality is not an ethical plus; it’s required.
  2. Courage and sacrifice: Higher levels of service are the binding elements of effective leadership.
  3. Relationships: Gaining advantage in isolated transactions cannot be the basis of a sustainable business model.
  4. Value creation: Value is not based on how hard you’ve worked, or what you think you deserve, but solely on your customers’ judgment.
  5. Values create value: In a time of customer empowerment and commoditization, advancing the values of customers can be a potent differentiator.
  6. Vision is the essential element of leadership.
  7. Management is part of leadership: In an age of accountability, the boss is out, the coach is in.
  8. Best in world is the only sustainable model in our connected world.
  9. Listening is the master skill in a relationship-based world.
  10. Questions are better than answers; substitute the open ends of question marks for the closed ends of periods.
  11. Influence: “The power to persuade” is now as necessary a skill for corporate CEOs as for politicians.
  12. Communication skills cannot be delegated or outsourced; effective leaders must master an ever-evolving range of communications and expectations.
  13. Collaboration: The smartest person in the room is always the room.
  14. Create a stimulating ecosystem: Have a personal board of advisors. Search out mentors. Connect with people of accomplishment through social media.
  15. Intergenerational learning: What are you learning from various generations?
  16. International learning: A world of customers, competitors, prospects, and resources is just a mouse click away.
  17. Resilience: You’re less likely to have your falls hidden behind the walls of large institutions. Are you able to get off the mat, get back into the ring?
  18. Break boundaries: Don’t let others’ limitations apply to you.
  19. Cultivate an experimenter’s mindset: Innovation includes false leads and failures. Today’s failure may be the basis of tomorrow’s breakthrough.
  20. Optimism and alternative mindsets spread fast; it’s a leadership decision, not a matter of individual temperament.
  21. Enthusiasm is the universal spirit that remains compelling.
  22. Relentless adaptability: The value of your service is determined by your capacity to evolve in rapidly changing circumstances.
  23. Vitality: Your physical, mental, and spiritual health constitutes the foundation of all service.
  24. Think like an artist: Make every aspect of your experience a part of your evolution.
  25. Achieve integrity: The sum of your parts can be united into a whole that only you can create