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What makes a great business leader today?

What makes a great business leader today?

Many business owners and executives have varying perspectives on the approach and attributes for effective leadership. Many have made leadership about changing the world, thereby creating outdated leadership development programs based on success models from a world that was and not one that is or coming. Relying on traditional leadership models in a 21st century world that is global, digitally enabled with faster speed of information will stunt a leader’s growth.


Roselinde Torres, a researcher in the field of leadership, conducted a study with 4,000 companies to observe the effectiveness of their leadership development programs. The study revealed that 58% of the companies cited significant talent gaps for key leadership roles implying that over half of the companies had failed to grow enough great leaders.[1] What then makes a great business leader in the 21st century and what is today’s successful leader doing distinctively to thrive and grow?


Below are some of the perspectives of speakers and business leaders of what makes a great leader in the 21st century:

  • Inspire cooperation and trust

Management theorist Simon Sinek suggests that leaders should make selfless sacrifices and put the needs of the people inside their organization first by sacrificing their own comforts so that employees feel safe and know that they belong.[2] Leaders that prioritise the wellbeing of their employees end up with a more loyal workforce that would give up their blood, sweat and tears to see that their leader’s vision comes to life. When employees feel safe inside the organization, they will naturally combine their strengths and talents to face external dangers and seize opportunities for success.


  • Articulate a clear vision

Leadership is about being passionate about what you do, having confidence in yourself and your followers whom you have to motivate and inspire.[3] Great leaders have clarity of purpose and are great at articulating their beliefs. As the business world becomes more network-based, leaders will need to rely more on inspiration and influence. Employees should follow those who lead not because they have to but because they have solid faith in the leader’s ideas.

  • Earn the respect of the team

Showing respect, empathy and care to your followers are all attributed to being a great leader.[4] Emotional intelligence is imperative to successful relationships. Being emphatic allows a leader to connect in a way that lets the individual know that the leader understands or feels what the individual is experiencing from within their frame of reference.

  • Know that the people are the key to success

A great leader understands that it is the people they lead that ultimately influence the success or failure of any venture.[5] He or she knows the strengths and weaknesses of every individual to effectively manage the outcome of a team. They surround themselves with diverse people they can develop into a team of competent, confident individuals who can work well as a team towards the accomplishment of a coordinated goal. Successful leaders will be those who can create, sustain and modify effective human capital and organizational strategies. Ultimately, the goal of a great leader is to create and nurture other leaders.

Answering the 3 questions below can determine an individual’s effectiveness as a 21st century leader: [6]

  1. How effectively do you use your time to directly impact a certain objective with a reachable goal?

The first move in re-assessing this is to think about how effectively you use your time. Who you are spending most of your time with? What topics you are discussing and how are you distilling this into identifying potential discontinuities and then deciding to prepare for change?


  1. What is the diversity measure of your network?

Diversity involves the quality of your network and the capacity to develop relationships with people that are thinking differently from you. Creating a support network of diverse people with different experiences and approach to problem solving is invaluable. Ensure your networks are being used to make meaningful decisions.


  1. Are you courageous enough to abandon familiar practices to face success?

Be willing to navigate change and seek new practices for success to take your business to a different level. It is easy to get used to familiar practices, especially if they have been successful in the past. Great leaders need to make sure they are taking risks and daring to be different.

Many in leadership positions know what they need to do to be better leaders, but sometimes fail to act. Being a great leader requires constant personal and professional development; self-reflection; consistent transparent feedback from the team; and taking action on feedback received. Being a critical and strategic thinker by looking to find the why behind a proposition is a key trait of a successful modern leader. A great leader in the 21st century prepares themselves not only for the comfortable predictability of yesterday but also for the realities of today and the unknown possibilities of tomorrow.





[1] Torres, R. (2014). What it takes to be a great leader, presented at a TED-curated event in partnership with BCG, San Francisco

[2] Sinek, S. (2014). Why good leaders make you feel safe, presented at a TED conference, Vancouver

[3] Matei Gavril, CEO at PrMediaOnline

[4] Brandon Swenson, CEO at SEO Pros, Utah

[5] Randy Soderman, Founder of Soderman Marketing

[6] Flatum, Cecilia. “What is a great leader? The next 10 minutes gives you the answer!” 7 Oct, 2015, accessed on 28 Jan: http://www.ceciliaflatum.com/what-is-a-great-leader/

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