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Leading in the 21st Century: 10 Things You Must Know to Succeed

Can you remember a time when people looked up to doctors as if they were gods? We took everything that they said at face value, never questioning their judgment. That same kind of blind faith used to apply to leaders as well. Times have certainly changed. People now realize that leaders are not infallible. In the worst-case scenario, a leader can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time.

Today’s business environment demands leaders who are authentic, engaged and committed to developing others. Many organizations insist that their employees are their greatest asset. But too often, they fail to back up their lofty ideals with actions. Here are 10 ways leaders can set a tone of integrity and professionalism that all employees will feel honored to emulate.
  1. Don’t fake it till you make it.  Leaders who are authentic are viewed as credible. Today’s employees want to work with someone whom they know is real. They can’t build a relationship with a leader they don’t regard as genuine. Be who you are; take the mask off. Your behavior is a mirror for your values and your character, because although authenticity happens internally, it manifests itself externally. Authentic leaders know that they have strengths and nonstrengths and they surround themselves with people who can fill in their gaps and help them lead more effectively.
  2. Put your heart into it. True leadership is about connecting with people. Employees won’t care about your vision until they know that you care about them. Without question you must possess the requisite intellectual horsepower, but the best leaders have alignment between the head and the heart. They consciously make decisions based upon input from both areas. Leaders who are willing to expose their caring side are more approachable, more collaborative and, therefore, more trusted.
  3. Integrity Counts. Leaders are under a lot of pressure to achieve short-term gains. A great leader must take risks to develop the business but not at the cost of his or her integrity. You’ve got to know where to draw the line. Integrity should be the platform upon which a leader approaches everything including, business decisions, conflicts, promoting people, customer relationship management, ambiguity, ego, hidden agendas and on and on… When you are rooted in a strong integrity-based philosophy, you will always do that what’s right—even if it means challenging the status quo.
  4. Honor your responsibility to serve others.  Leaders develop themselves so that they can develop others. It’s that simple! To develop people a leader must be willing to embrace different styles, different approaches, different genders, different everything. Today’s workforce is more than 50% women and is comprised of four different generations. Obviously, clinging to old stereotypes is no longer an option.
  5. Create a culture of inclusion. So much emphasis has been placed on diversity, yet diversity itself has gone through an evolution. It involves everything that is unique about each individual. Creating a culture where everyone is welcomed and given an equal opportunity to contribute and advance—that’s real inclusion.
  6. Get the big picture.  It’s not enough to have “silo” expertise rooted in one skill area. Today’s leaders have to understand the entire business. Stretch yourself to develop cross functional expertise. Producing shareholder value is the result of great business decisions. How can you make a good decision if you don’t understand the big picture?
  7. Become a student of the world. You are responsible for guiding the team or organization to higher levels of performance and profitability. The only way to sustain success in a market where change occurs at the speed of light is to study the trends—not just business trends, but workforce, social and global trends. You need to stay on top of what’s happening all around you. Spend time thinking about how the world around you is changing and do your best to stay ahead of the curve.
  8. Satisfy your internal customer. So many organizations talk about the importance of being “customer centric.” But the organizations that will break through to new heights of productivity are those that take the time to satisfy their internal clients—the employees—first. There was a time when a paycheck was enough to keep an employee motivated and satisfied. That’s no longer true. Today’s employers have to meet non-traditional, work/life issues like flex time, time to take care of sick parents, time off instead of bonuses, etc. Layer on top of these requirements the urgency to match an employee’s strengths with the correct job. Now you can see the importance of taking care of your internal clients so that you can have great business relationships with your external clients.
  9. Become a coach/mentor. Your job as a leader is to help people discover their strengths. Employees don’t just want to be told what to do; they want leaders who can coach them to improved performance. In essence what they need is a good teacher. Ask a lot of questions. Don’t assume anything. And give people time to process information based on their strengths, not yours.
  10. Work hard, play hard. We spend a large portion of our lives at work. So do your best to be happy in your chosen endeavor. If you’re not, do something to change it. Try a little laughter, keep your sense of humor and above all else, keep everything in perspective.