The Challenge of 21st Century Leadership Miriam Luke

Miriam Luke - November 2017

What skills will our leaders of the future need to deliver success? Will they be different to those leadership values and behaviours that we recognise as best practise today. At our recent client and associate event we had a very spirited and lively debate with some of our most experienced and interesting clients and consultants where we considered the top 6 mega trends that will disrupt the workplace over the next 50 years.

TOP 6 Mega Trends

Increased Globalisation

Globalisation 1 ie West goes East has been the main trend over the last 1000 years, starting with Marco Polo and the silk route in the middle ages and moving onto the massive importation of cheaper goods early this century. This has been possible due to the integration of markets and interconnectedness of national economies thanks to development in transport, communication and the rise of the social media and the internet resulting in global shoppers with easy access to 'virtual' global markets.

Globalisation 2 however is the reverse trend where East now goes West, as China and the emerging economies are looking to the West. Global organisations now look to employ the very best talent from across the globe and companies have large and complex structures, teams are no longer co located and work virtually. What challenges does this pose for leaders?

Georg Velmetter and Yvonne Small's book on Leadership Challenges in 2030 covers more detail on the impact of Globalisation.

Major Workforce Disruptors

The workforce no longer sees itself in one company let alone one career as a lifelong vocation. Increased sharing platforms and networks has resulted in the GIG economy where non-employee freelance workers and temporary assignments mean no one really works for anyone. The emergence of Artificial Intelligence and robotics will result in huge job losses with the traditional professions of law and medicine being impacted. The pressure on leaders to understand the motivation of their non-direct employees will be will be much higher and more difficult to engage.

The disruption to work is bigger than we have ever seen

Ageing Population

By 2050 the world population is set to be 9 billion, this is not because of the birth rate but because we will all live for much longer. The workforce will be more intergenerational with an increase in the number of middle aged workers. However there will be fewer manual and menial jobs so what will this mean for leaders and how they lead the working population.

The global population by age and sex

Increasing Diversity of the Workforce

High performing teams are made up of people with different ideas and experience. This gives groups the ability to think in a different way that helps innovative thinking .The workforce of successful organisations will be more diverse; by nationality, culture, gender, age, disability and by neuro diversity. Chris Packham, in his recent programme in about living with Autism, spoke about how Google was looking to leverage neuro diversity by employing those on the autistic spectrum.

True inclusion of diversity will place additional pressure on our future leaders in how they truly reap the benefit of diversity.

Climate Change

A leader's ability to respond to the pressure of climate change will also determine the ongoing survival of global and local organisations. Their ability to meet the internal challenges of shortage of natural resources, business disruptors and increased social pressure to act more responsibly will be key along with react to the external challenges of significant weather events and disasters.

2013 significant climate anomalies and events

Dr Carol Adams has written some interesting ideas around developing leaders to meet this challenge. Read her paper on the development of leaders able to respond to climate change and sustainability challenges here.

Established versus Entrepreneur

Established Sectors face increasing regulation and scrutiny which places more pressure on leaders versus entrepreneurial organisation working under the radar to avoid regulation. For example Uber and Deliveroo. The implementation of the Senior managers Regime and the inherent increased accountability and scrutiny of leaders is already impacting how organisations recruit and screen for leaders. How will this play in countries with fewer regulations. This also plays out in the public versus private life of leaders, social media results in nothing ever remaining private for those in leadership roles.

Emerging Technologies

By the end of the century one thing will be a constant - change and complexity. Every company will be a technology company and software will be embedded in everything. To keep pace many organisations will need to collaborate with those that have expertise so placing additional pressures on leaders to influence and collaborate externally particularly in sharing R&D.

Outlining the challenges the 21st century faces forcing us to change


We heard from Dr Clare Murray, Leadership Coach (London Business School) and Organisational Psychologist along with Katrina Wray our Organisational Behavioural Consultant about how to develop the collaborative thinking behaviours that future leaders will need to use to be equipped to meet these challenges. This is now an innovative new 21st Century Leadership development programme that we offer called Collaborative Leadership; Connect, Create Collaborate.

John Donnelly CBE also added the important dimension of culture and values; who talked his experience of implementing values based leadership in the British Army.

Our collaborative conclusion as to the most important values for successful 21st Century leadership were summarised in the collective word cloud see below. Integrity was the most popular value. Perhaps this reflects our concerns about the leadership of today? If you would like to know more about how we can help you in developing Leaders for the 21st Century please contact

Leadership Qualities

  2. Hans Rosling – Don’t Panic