1998 Volume 1 Issue 2

Management Skills for the 21st Century

Management Skills for the 21st Century

Communication and Interpersonal Skills Rank First

Do educators and practitioners agree on which management skills are required for success in the 21st century? How can communications between those who teach and those who practice business be improved so that companies are better prepared to meet the challenges of the new millennium? These questions are the impetus for a new research project at Pepperdine’s George L. Graziadio School of Business and Management (GSBM).

Several recent business journals suggest a growing gap between those who teach in graduate business programs and those who practice business in corporations and agencies. One suggested reason for the increased separation is that the two groups do not usually interact. One of the reasons they don’t interact is that practitioners, facing deadline and bottom line pressures, prefer to focus on solving immediate problems, while faculty, wanting to encourage thoughtful reasoning, require students to gather increasing amounts of information before making decisions. Thus, practitioners rarely seek out faculty research assistance in decision making, and many faculty view industry as interested only in short-term fixes. These natural tendencies can block meaningful dialogue and create hurdles for mutually beneficial partnerships.

Increased interaction between practitioners and faculty has several potential advantages for both groups. Enhanced communication can lead to the development of a community where industry benefits from practical research provided by faculty, and academics have increased access to quality research sites offered by practitioners. Faculty could also increase course content and value through “hands on” interactions with the business community. In addition, partnerships with practitioners would offer valuable data for the evaluation of business school curricula. Increased awareness of practitioners’ current and future needs could be instrumental to developing cutting-edge academic programs.

These benefits suggest that greater dialogue between faculty and industry to explore common ground and to seek out an appreciation of the goals and expectations of each of the constituencies is valuable. However, few formal networks exist to bridge the gap. A mechanism that will promote, enhance, and foster increased conversation between business school faculties and industrial communities is necessary.

Board of Visitors

Southern California leaders in business and graduate business education recently took the first step in developing conversations aimed at examining these and other important questions. GSBM faculty members and members of the school’s Board of Visitors met on May 12 in a meeting designed to encourage improved communication between those who teach business and those who practice business.

The Board of Visitors is comprised of more than 100 local business leaders who have agreed to serve in an advisory role. The mission of the Board is to provide essential advice in many areas, including, but not limited to: academic programs; executive education; managing technology; and global programs. Members of the Board also serve as advisors to GSBM Dean Otis Baskin in identifying and analyzing broad issues that will impact the school in coming years. Increased interaction between members of the Board of Visitors and GSBM faculty also can provide a means of overcoming barriers between industry and academe. Linking the two can create the communication needed to develop a learning community of scholars and business leaders.

The goal of the May 12 meeting included planting seeds for ongoing interaction between faculty and Board of Visitor members, allowing both groups to describe their needs, and encouraging input from practitioners that could be useful for curriculum planning. A significant part of that dialogue included a discussion of what skills successful managers will need in the upcoming millennium.

The Process

A questionnaire focusing on current and future business conditions was distributed to all faculty and Board members two months prior to the meeting. The questionnaire included four open-ended questions. Responses to the question asking what skills would be required of effective 21st century managers were the focus of the May 12 meeting. Sixty-two responses were returned, equally distributed between faculty and Board members. Fourteen categories of important attributes emerged from a content analysis of the data collected. Some were skills, but some also involved attitudes or other traits. A handout listing the 14 categories identified by respondents was distributed (Included at end of article.)

The participants were asked to work in groups of six to eight to determine which five of the fourteen attributes they deemed to be most important. There were faculty members and Board members in each group, with a facilitator for each group responsible for moderating the discussion and encouraging interaction and feedback from both practitioners and faculty. A total of seventy-nine participants were divided into twelve groups.

The exercise actually had a dual purpose. One purpose was to promote a general dialogue regarding the critical issues that managers face in accomplishing their goals, and the other was to identify the most important skills and attitudes needed to achieve these goals.


The participants were asked to select the five most critical skills or attributes for effective managers in the 21st century from those on the list. Thus the score represents the number of groups out of the possible 12 that reported this item to be one of their top five choices. (In some cases, when members of a group could not reduce their selection to five, an additional item or two were included).

Because of a tie, the list of the top five skills or attributes actually became a list of six. These skills include:

  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • An ethical or spiritual orientation
  • The ability to manage change
  • The ability to motivate
  • Analytic and problem solving skills
  • Being a strategic/visionary manager

Some participant groups chose to include attributes not on the original list of 14 skills. These additional attributes included:

  • Persistence in overcoming difficulties
  • Managing the knowledge worker
  • Hard work
  • Being passionate about work


The survey: The group decision-making technique used in this exercise revealed that the effective 21st century manager is likely to be a transformational leader. That is, a masterful change agent who, through the use of outstanding interpersonal skills and analytical application, is able to motivate others by sharing a strategic vision, while at the same time adhering to a rigorous ethical code.

A contemporary example of the transformational leader is Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric. For over 17 years, Welch has been the inspiration for GE’s success. Measured by revenue, GE is the fifth largest company in the US, but the second-highest profit producer.

Widely recognized as a visionary strategic thinker, Welch is also an example of a leader who is able to communicate his goals in a manner that enhances commitment. By using the “mirror test,” Welch asks employees to look at themselves introspectively when making ethical decisions. That GE holds the position it does today attests to the analytic and problem-solving skills that he personally exhibits and values among others in the company. The commitment to vision, along with his ability to motivate others to enroll in his mission, has made GE the highest market-valued company in the country.

It may be interesting for readers to reflect on their own management styles. If, indeed, the items identified above are qualities needed by effective managers, one may want to examine the extent to which he or she possesses these skills. Therefore, this exercise may be very helpful as a developmental activity that could be a valuable self-improvement tool.

You are encouraged to respond to the survey yourself, whether or not you agree with the top choices of those at this particular session. By clicking on the link at the end of this article, you can record your top five selections and then see how other readers have responded. If you wish to comment on this article, please go to the Your Turn Section of the Graziadio Business Review or send an e-mail to GBR. [PLEASE NOTE THAT THE SURVEY IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE.]

The reaction of those who participated in the faculty-Board discussion was favorable. The meeting provided the opportunity for faculty and practitioners to introduce themselves and become aware of each other’s interests and to share perspectives on important business issues. It is planned that the initial meeting will become the first in an on-going series of similar events. The opportunity to communicate with business leaders is beneficial for faculty as a vehicle for gathering information about business practice, for becoming aware of research possibilities, and for receiving input for curricular changes.

Given the positive results that came out of this meeting, it would seem meaningful for future meetings to address other contemporary business concerns and to find new ways of enhancing dialogue. For example, issues related to external influences (e.g., government interventions or international competition) on business practice, and the effect on the development of middle and senior level managers would be appropriate for discussion. In addition, it may be useful for practitioners to become acquainted with the practical research being carried out by the faculty.

Handout Distributed at the Faculty/Board of Visitors Meeting

The following list was created from the responses of members of the Board of Visitors and GSBM Faculty to the questionnaire that was distributed earlier this year. Although all of the skills identified below are essential for effective management, please select the FIVE that you believe to be most important for 21st century managers in positions of authority.

  1. Ability to manage differences
  2. Ability to manage change– diversity
  3. Being a strategic/visionary manager
  4. Ability to motivate
  5. Decisive– quickness of action
  6. Having a global perspective
  7. Ethical and/or spiritual orientation– that is, to act with integrity
  8. Knowledge of computer technology
  9. Analytic and problem solving skills
  10. Resiliency– being able to balance job, family and outside demands
  11. Ability to facilitate/manage teams
  12. Communication and interpersonal skills– people skills
  13. Having a self-development mindset
  14. Being able to recognize current trends/market conditions

Five Most Important Management Skills for the 21st Century
As Selected by GSBM Faculty and the Board of Visitors
May 12, 1998

12Communication and interpersonal skills – people skills10
7Ethical and/or spiritual orientation – that is, to act with integrity8
2Ability to manage change — diversity7
4Ability to motivate6
3Being a strategic/visionary manager5
9Analytic and problem solving skills5
6Having a global perspective4
5Decisive — quickness of action4
14Being able to recognize current trends/market conditions3
1Ability to manage differences3
8Knowledge of computer technology2
13Having a self-development mindset2
11Ability to facilitate/manage teams1
10Resiliency — being able to balance job, family and outside demands1
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Author of the article
Mark Mallinger, PhD
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.
More articles from 1998 Volume 1 Issue 2
Related Articles