Leadership in the 21st century continues to evolve to meet the demands of dramatically changing organizational structures — one that is being transformed to include decision making at all levels. 

Leadership capabilities are needed throughout organizational structures, not merely within the top tier. Leaderships role has now expanded to include team members, remote staff members, independent contractors, and stakeholders.

However, there are specific leadership characteristics that make an individual more or less likely to succeed. Research on leadership continues to reveal which characteristics are more necessary and how are they best utilized. It’s essential to keep in mind that each person has their own unique leadership style — based on a unique blend of experiences they bring to any situation. They also bring competencies and personalities.

Effective leadership does not come exclusively from contextual knowledge and competencies, but rather, from well-honed people skills. Most people value competencies to get a job done, but are equally drawn to leaders who demonstrate authenticity and are friendly and respectful toward others.

Leadership characteristics can be divided into two categories — those of strength and those of warmth. The characteristics of strength are sought-after in job interviews and highlighted on resumes, but the characteristics of warmth become increasingly important as you move into the upper echelons of leadership.

How do we define strength characteristics?

Traits that are associated with leadership strength include individual intelligence, problem-solving, strategic perspective, technical and professional expertise, goal setting, time management, and analytical capabilities. When considering which areas of professional development to improve, people often want to improve their strength. There’s a sense that boosting one’s expertise can lead to promotions and higher leadership positions. However, this set of attributes, used alone, has limitations.

How do we define warmth characteristics?

Traits that are associated with leadership warmth include an individual’s trustfulness, empathy, respect for others, social support, honesty, approachability, collaboration, ability to inspire, and effective communication. People notice warmth characteristics first when forming an initial impression of someone. When defining the effectiveness of a leader, individuals often cite warmth characteristics as the most important. This characteristic can only be learned through situational application — not in a formal classroom setting. It’s how an individual performs — the tone of their voice, an authentic smile, validation of another’s feelings.

How will the digital age affect leadership?

Leaders will soon be navigating a dynamic, fast-paced digital age. Working in this environment will cause leaders to make decisions in a shorter time-frame and across virtual landscapes. The global community will continue to shrink, and reliance on collaborative teams will increase. With this quickened pace, innovation will be vital to keeping one step ahead, and living with ambiguity will become the norm. Leaders who rely on concrete evidence for decision-making will find themselves falling behind. Learning to work with your intuition will become a necessary skill. 

In this new era of business, there is a growing expectation of conscious capitalism. No longer are companies solely focused on profit, there is the expectation that businesses will also focus on improving communities, while building their businesses. The new generation entering our workforce today, wants to make a positive impact on society and pursue work that has a meaningful purpose. Leaders will be expected to incorporate purpose into their business plans and effectively communicate this purpose as part of their vision.

There continues to be growing importance in teaching skills

Effective leaders need to keep learning. To maintain a competitive advantage, they must have an ability to learn and adapt to change as it occurs. Most importantly, leaders must hone their teaching skills because the talent pool is shrinking, and the need to retain quality talent will become more urgent. One way to retain talent is to build an organization with continual learning and personal growth opportunities built-in.  

Leadership etiquette will rise in importance

Have you noticed that our daily pace seems to have accelerated as information continues to bombard us — more emails, internet, text messages, and telephone calls? If we are not mindful, personal connections can be lost in the fray. In this fast-paced lifestyle, etiquette takes on a greater importance. Answering emails in a timely fashion is a must. If someone asks a question via text messaging, the internet, or email, they deserve an answer. Proper etiquette translates to being courteous, and leaders need such a trait if they want to build trust and camaraderie. Proper etiquette sends an important message that you respect those with whom you interact.

Leadership in the 21st century will continue to evolve as organizations shift the way they interact with society. Embracing change, enjoying the journey, and savoring the opportunities along the way — and working in collaboration — will make the learning process more rewarding.