Leadership for the 21st Century


Business Journal columnist

Successful business leaders understand how important relationship building is for the long-term financial security of their organizations.

However, sometimes we forget that the same relationship-building skills we use with clients are just as important to use with our employees. We, as leaders, are constantly challenged to learn the best methods for motivating and inspiring our workforce to be engaged and to do the best that they can do.

“The landscape of business is shifting from leaders who had high authority and faced low conflict to leaders who have lower authority and face greater conflict,” according to Srikant Datar, David Garvin and Patrick Cullen in their book “Rethinking the MBA.” Leadership skills that worked 20 years ago are unlikely to be effective today. In CSU Stanislaus’ Executive MBA program, we focus on this topic, Leadership in the 21st Century.

Successful leaders have learned that they should treat their employees as they would like to be treated, with fairness and respect. Earn their trust by being honest with them, even when it is painful, and by following through with the commitments we make to them.

Effective leaders solicit employee feedback, because people on the front lines can see close up what is working and what needs to be changed. Communicate clear goals for the organization and for the employee. Opportunities for career growth through training and advancement should be made available, because without hope for a brighter future, employees grow complacent and discouraged. And constant communication is critical to avoid misinterpretation, rumors and anxiety.

David Pincus and Harold E. Rudnick analyzed the work of successful leaders and summarized five core principles in effective contemporary leadership:

1. Empathizing: Listening and responding to our employees’ feelings and concerns; putting ourselves in their shoes. This can be difficult to do if we are busy and distracted, but we should set time aside to listen to our employees.

2. Involving: Inviting team members to meaningfully participate in strategic planning. This will allow participants to take ownership and support new organizational initiatives. Not consulting with staff is a perfect way for them to disengage.

3. Communicating: Sharing information constantly, seeking employees’ opinions and acknowledging contributions. Communicate clear goals and provide feedback. Use every available medium to keep people in the loop. And one of the most meaningful ways to build employee relationships is in person; take time to stroll the halls and the factory floor and chat with the people who are working there.

4. Persisting: Understanding that change takes time, patience and persistence. A clearly communicated plan of action is essential. If one approach fails, another may succeed. We should keep our eyes on the goal and not let the naysayers get us down.

5. Envisioning: Imagining a shared vision of what needs to be accomplished. Envision changes that benefit everyone, not just the leadership. Explain why a particular strategy positively impacts the organization and all stakeholders.

Creating a vision for the future that all can embrace takes time, consultation, process and patience. Through our actions, we set an example for those around us. By remaining positive, being kind and keeping our sense of humor, we create an atmosphere in which it is fun to come to work and do the best we can do, even in difficult times.


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