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Five Essential Skills for Leadership in the 21st Century

Who you are and whether you care are just as Important as what you do

skills for entrepreneurs

The 21st century presents many new challenges for both employees and business leaders. In an interconnected, fast moving world, we need to learn cognitive flexibility, stress tolerance, and divergent thinking. While technology can make us more effective, new theories of leadership emphasize the importance of trust and establishing long-term relationships. In a competitive world, we need leaders with novel ideas, who are willing to take risks, inspire and motivate, and build new strategic partnerships to address global challenges. In these endeavors, leaders need to incorporate skills that are more in the realm of psychology and cognitive science. Below is a psychologist’s perspective on what it takes to succeed in the new world of business.


"Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is specifically your own.“ –Bruce Lee

There are so many people out there saying exactly the same thing. To stand out, you have to be original. Being original involves taking time to really think about material that you hear or read. How does this story or research finding relate to finding solutions for the problems that you want to address?

  • Have an original perspective that inspires people
  • Apply knowledge from one area to another or synthesize ideas from different disciplines
  • Tell a different story about the material; Relate it to your own life and work experiences
  • Find a novel way to communicate key concepts or approach a problem
  • Trim the fat off of a theory or operational system; add new elements that improve


“Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker

It’s not about getting things done quickly or doing the most activities in the shortest time. Rather than doing a bunch of busywork, take time to formulate a vision and set priorities and goals. Find a balance between doing the urgent and important things.

  • What are the short- and long-term challenges that your team/organization will address?
  • In what way will you contribute unique value in addressing these challenges?
  • What potential barriers will you face and how will you deal with them?
  • What skills and resources do you need to optimally provide and support these new services/technologies.
  • How can your team support people to do their best work and support customers to get the best use out of your products/services
  • Sometimes doing the right things will not be the most efficient. Gaining the trust of customers and employees can consume time and resources, but will lead to better long-term stability and effectiveness.


“Fall seven times, Stand up eight.” – Japanese Proverb

The truth is that everybody makes mistakes. The bigger your goals, the more mistakes you will make. Being innovative means trying new things; and venturing where nobody has gone before. It’s easier to do things the way they’ve always been done, but your long-term impact will be less. If you want to have a memorable and long-term impact, you need to take strategic risks, and that may mean failing or messing up sometimes. Self-confidence is key. Often this comes from having prior successful experiences. Even if you’re doing something new, remember your prior successes, and the personal qualities you have that created them.

  • If you believe in your mission and abilities, failure is just a temporary detour.
  • Most failures contain one or more lessons. Be willing to admit your contribution to the failure, and be ready to change your thinking about the issue.
  • Listen to and collaborate with others, but do not suppress your own voice and goals.
  • You may need to take time to grieve the loss of a dream, contemplate, and regroup.

Be The Change..


“The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity. “ – Peter Drucker

We live in a time of rapid technological, geographical, and economic change. Old formulas don't predict as well, anymore. New knowledge about the brain and human genome is already leading to radical new ways of viewing the world. Mobile technology makes the world smaller and increases the access & knowledge of constituents who previously had no voice. This creates many challenges, but also opens the door to new opportunities.

  • The human brain naturally resists change, seeing it as a threat.
  • It is important to counteract your brain’s natural, fear-based, conservative tendencies and cultivate an optimistic attitude to change.
  • Think about how you can apply your tried and true skills and strengths to this changing landscape. What new needs does the change create?
  • Pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that change brings up in you. See if you can watch fearful reactions without feeling you have to act on them.


“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. “ – Lao Tzu

When you do succeed, do not get too distracted by your ego. Success does not make you invincible or more worthy than other people. Every person has something to contribute and all are worthy of respect (except perhaps human cannibals, etc.). Similarly, if you don’t get desired results, your preconceived views may need to be tweaked, so be willing to change your thinking.Be patient with the process. Results take time. You may have to go through a stage of investing your time and resources, learning new skills, putting ideas out there and waiting for them to take root.

  • Always keep the meaning of your work at the forefront. Why are you doing what you do? What contribution do you want to make to bettering the lives of others?
  • Value the simple things in life, such as nature, health, friends, coworkers, and family. These will sustain you through the difficult times, so remember to feed them.
  • Practice mindful self-awareness to learn compassion for yourself and others. Much of business is about relationships. If you exude a humble, caring, open attitude, and are a team player, others will be more willing to work with or follow you.
  • Work hard, but don’t drive yourself like a machine. Life is a marathon, not a sprint., so use your energy wisely and know when you need to replenish.
  • You may have underlying needs, that drive you, such as to be acknowledged, have power, be part of a group, be respected, cared about, and so on. The more you understand and acknowledge these needs, the less they will get in the way of your mission.

Using these strategies should help optimize your personal strength and adaptability, passion for your work, ability to act strateically, and work with others in mutually beneficial ways. While the old model of business emphasized dominance and power, the new models are more abou vision, focus, communication, cognitive flexibility, authenticity, and partnership. The world is becoming too complicated to be effective alone. Forming meaningful, trusting relationships with others who have different skills and knowledge, but similar goals and values is the way to succeed in both small business and large organizations.

About The Author

Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist, and expert on Mindfulness and Positive Psychology. Dr Greenberg provides workshops and speaking engagements for organizations, life, weight loss, or career coaching, and psychotherapy for individuals and couples.

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