UPDATE: Management Skills for the 21st Century

Managing Complexity in a Dynamic Business Environment

2012 Volume 15 Issue 1

Fourteen years later, what have we learned about leadership? Have the predictions held true regarding management skills necessary for effective enterprise?

Click here to read the original article, “Management Skills for the 21st Century: Communication and Interpersonal Skills Rank First.”

Examining current leadership practices of successful organizations, this update addresses the two questions above. It may be of value to not only identify leadership dimensions that support the predictions, but also note the skills that received lesser attention in 1998, yet play out today. Also included are items that were not in the initial 14 dimensions, but have emerged as significant in today’s business community.


Photo: alexsl


Our conclusion in 1998 was that organizations, to be effective, needed to select transformational leaders[1] for decision making roles. Clearly, the dynamic business environment demands leaders who have the ability to manage complexity. That strategy is witnessed in the continued success of Apple, Google, Zappos, and Facebook along with mid-sized companies such as DaVita (a health care provider), even during a challenging economy. The attributes related to transformational leadership that emerged in the 1998 faculty/practitioner meeting included:

  • Strategic/Visionary
  • Ability to Manage Change
  • Ethical Focus
  • Ability to Motivate
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Problem-Solving Skills

Therefore, it appears that the team that met that day did a good job of identifying the critical elements associated with effective leadership in 2012. However, a few of the 14 competencies that scored low may also be described as much a part of today’s business landscape. For example, having a global perspective did not make the top half of the final list; being able to incorporate a developmental mind-set also lagged; and life balance received the fewest votes. Given the significance of international trade, political challenges, and social concerns, an argument for the responsibility of leaders to command a global perspective is necessary. In addition, one could argue that with the current focus on the importance of self-awareness[2] and authentic leadership[3] a developmental perspective is required. Although much is discussed about work life balance, my sense is that the demands of increased world-wide competition, pressure to innovate, rapid changes in technology, and the need for decisive decision-making, leaders can only dream about work life balance—the reality may be that it is more difficult to create than at any other time.

An item that was not included in the initial list, but many would argue is essential in 21st century business practice, is a social and environmental[4] commitment to operating a thriving organization. Now, more than ever before, organizations are embracing a capitalistic model that has evolved from a solely bottom-line objective. This new model looks at success from a longer-term perspective and includes the interests of a larger array of stakeholders. As such, organizations need leaders who understand the complexities of issues such as sustainability and corporate social responsibility, and how these integrate into producing a superior product or service that generates financial success.

I’m looking forward to updating the article, once again, perhaps in 2020. What are the management skills you would predict will be needed for successful organizations eight years from now?

For more on this topic, click here to read the original article, “Management Skills for the 21st Century: Communication and Interpersonal Skills Rank First.”


[1]Bass, Bernard M., and Ronald E. Riggio. Transformational leadership. 2nd ed. Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates, 2006.

[2]Bradberry, Travis, Jean Greaves, and Patrick M. Lencioni (Forward). Emotional intelligence 2.0. San Diego, Calif.: TalentSmart, 2009.

[3]George, B., P. Sims, A. McLean, and D. Mayer. “Discovering your Authentic Leadership.” Harvard Business Review, February 2001, 129-138.

[4]Mallinger, Mark, and Michael Crooke. “The SEER Lens: Curriculum Evolution for Sustainable Competitive Advantage.” (2011): a working paper

About the Author(s)

Mark Mallinger, PhD, is a professor of applied behavioral science at the Graziadio School of Business and Management's at Pepperdine University. He teaches in the full-time, fully-employed, and executive programs. Dr. Mallinger is a management development consultant and has published works in a number of academic and practitioner journals.

Comments are closed.