Defining 21st Century Leadership is not an easy thing to do. Just as our world is more complex than in the past, defining the leadership traits, skills, and practices most effective for our world today is also complex. Indeed, one element of the definition is understanding that complexity is everywhere in our lives, and that leaders need a variety of skills if they are to succeed. When examining leadership as practiced in the law enforcement community, one critical understanding is that the rank we wear on our uniform sleeves or collars alone will not guarantee success. And if practice our leadership solely based on our rank, we can guarantee failure.
Successful leadership requires a degree of insight into how we as individuals, and as organizations, view the problems we encounter. Are we successfully solving the problems we face today? Is our current level of skills and knowledge adequate for the problems we face? These questions are not as simple as they may seem. Just asking ourselves these questions can be difficult to do. (Although doing so is one sign of leadership.)
If we are not solving the difficult problems, then we must ask ourselves how can we change the way we act, think, and lead to be more successful. And this is where 21st Century Leadership (or, simply, 21C) practices come into play; 21C is a body of practices, skills, and theories which offers us many different tools to be successful leaders. It is a toolbox, or a quiver, in many respects, but requiring a much more thoughtful approach than the “I outrank you, so do as I say” approach of the past. (Regretfully, there is still far to much of this type of leadership in all professions today.)
A key 21C principle is accepting – and promoting – the understanding that all of us are involved in the practice of leadership; being a leader does not require formal rank or authority, and those whom we might simply describe as “followers” are just as critical as those with authority.
Defining 21C Leadership is not simple, but here are three key elements to understand:
- Our world is more complex than in the past and as a result a broader range of leadership skills, practices, and knowledge are necessary.
- As leaders we must ask, “Am I, and is my organization, solving the difficult problems we are facing today, and, if not, what am I doing to improve my leadership skills and practices?”
- Leading from positional authority, and not understanding or respecting the roles played by others, is a recipe for leadership failure. Leadership is a process in which we are all involved.
From these key elements we can begin to grow into more effective leaders – which is really what 21st Century Leadership is really about.