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On Leadership Skills: Discover the most sought after skillsets for the 21st century

Updated on January 28, 2013
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Ben is scientist, teacher, researcher and author who loves to help you to be more, do more and achieve more. He is an Amazon kindle author

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On Leadership: discover the most sought after skillsets for the 21st century

Benjamin Ugoji

"We are in an economy we change jobs numerous times. Learning to learn is a critical skill. Be able to read, write and learn new things."

Robert Weissbourd

We are living in a dynamic world, which is changing by the day in terms of the skills set required to access employment. Reading an article by Paul B. Thornton on business success secrets from seven leaders recently, he reiterated the fact that our over arching goal should be to focus on acquiring those skills that will enable us to become mobile in the field of work. It was an advice give to Debbie Kennedy, President and CEO and Founder of Global Dialogue Centre and Leadership Solutions Company by one of her colleagues at IBM.

He told her, that jobs, missions, titles and organizations would come and go as business is dynamic - meaning it is always changing. He advised her not to focus your goals towards any of these but instead to learn to master the skills that will allow her to work anywhere.

Skills are as currencies that will enable us weave through the world of work.

This advice is very insightful to say the least. I have made it very personal. The reason is that these skills will enable you to become mobile concerning working in diverse organisations. After all, organisations not matter their nature deal with three things: outcomes, process and people. It therefore seems to me that these skills will enable you become effective in these three areas.

What are these skills?

These skills are:

  • The ability to develop an idea
  • Effectively plan for it's execution
  • Execute second to none
  • Achieve superior results time after time

These skills will prepare you for mastery of the various skills required in the act of leadership.

According to Paul Thornton, these skills will enable us to deliver excellence in our workplace; moreover, excellence speaks for itself and opens doors.

In this article, I will explore these skills and try to expound more on how to develop them. I will suggest thinking preferences required to develop these attributes and capabilities. Each section will end with an action plan to challenge the reader to achieving this mindset.

1 The ability to develop an idea

"Ideas are the currency of success. They separate you from your competition."

Edward de Bono

Author of Lateral Thinking

Come on lets face it! We all have ideas. However, what we do with these ideas is what is important. If you do not value ideas, there would not be any point looking for it in the first instance; how much more developing them. Ideas pop into our minds through our contact with our environment; therefore, we are never free from its influence. Development of any idea must start from getting the idea.

Where do we get ideas?

Most successful people get their ideas through dreams (night or day), using their imagination in order to seek new way to solve a problem, while having a bath or carrying out their normal work or through facing a very difficult circumstance in life. Some people by willing to do something differently or questioning old patterns and way of doing thing have used their brain in a different way to foster creativity.

How do we generate ideas?

Generating ideas is not automatic. We generate idea when we intentionally position ourselves to generate ideas. Some of the techniques we can use are freewriting and brainstorming.

In freewriting, you write continuously for a fixed period, such as 5 or 10 minutes. The rule in freewriting is to write continuously without stopping. Freewriting is a solo activity.

Brainstorming is a technique for generating ideas by saying aloud as many ideas as can be thought of in a fixed period of time. You can use brainstorming technique in a group or solo.

How can we develop ideas?

Developing any idea to my point of view is making the idea visible. It is made of tasks, activities, processes that could lead to a tangible product, project, service, or programme of activities. In order words, you are transforming the idea to something tangible. Something you can visualise with your senses as well as provide value to others on its realization. Therefore, developing your thinking requires you to use you whole brain to enable you to explore every aspect of your idea to evaluate whether you can move it forward. You will also be skilled on how to involve other people in realising these ideas.


  • What idea do you have in mind?

  • How can you develop it to make other people to understand it; and if possible be interested in it?

  • Research on the topic and see how you can improve your knowledge in this area.

2 Effectively plan for its implementation

Now you have developed your idea into a product concept, you need to plan for its implementation. In this stance, preparation is everything! What do I mean by this? Well, you have to create the environment to make idea a reality. This requires you to think strategically. John C Maxwell in his book, ‘Thinking for a Change', has this to say about Strategic thinking;

‘Strategic thinking is the bridge that links where you are to where you want to be'

According to him, it gives direction and credibility today and increases your potential for success tomorrow.

From the foregoing, it is evident that developing this ability will result in change in your mindset.

Literally speaking a person wearing the hat that promotes this type of thinking is in a journey. You need to know where you are going and how to get there. You also need to know why you are on this journey. You need to arm yourself with the knowledge, skills and commitment for this journey. You should also be able to communicate clearly with those that will accompany you in this journey their role. For example, what is my role in this?

Therefore, you require the following skills (Ann Herrmann-Nehdi, 2006):

  • Strong analytical, bottom line thinking: this enables you to ask the right questions (information) example, good data and numbers.
  • Execution expertise - this involves indebt knowledge; how processes work and to get things done.
  • Strong people skills - this enables you to understand the roles other could play and breeds the spirit of collaboration.
  • Ability to think globally - this is big picture thinking


  • Read about the whole brain theory in this web site:

  • What is your preferred thinking style and how can you develop whole brain thinking?
  • Read books and magazines to learn about industries that have nothing to do with your industry, because it could influence you someday.

3 Execute second to none

According to Pat Leonard the Executive Vice President of US Management Education (USME)Group of the American Management Association (AMA)in his article: From strategy to execution: sharpening your reflexes;

Execution is the result of care, planning and an intricate system of roles and processes. Just as the act of snapping your fingers is a learned behavior that connects the intellect with the motor skills to perform what is not a natural or reflexive act, strategy execution is the alignment of resources, processes, and learning.

From the foregoing definition, executing strategy is a skill, which can be mastered.

In their book, Execution with Strategy: How to break it down and get it done; Morgan E, Levitt, R E and Malek, W (2007) described the strategic execution framework (SEF)consisting of six domains using the acronym INVEST.

See Table 1

Table 1

INVEST: Six imperatives of strategic execution

Domain Imperative

Ideation Clarify and communicate identity, purpose and long - range intention

Nature Align the organisation's strategy, culture,

and structure

Vision Translate long-range intention into

goals, metrics, and strategy

Engagement Engage the strategy via project investment


Synthesis Monitor and continuously align the project

work with strategy

Transition Transfer projects crisply to operations to

reap the benefits

Source: Mark Morgan, Raymond E. Levitt and William Malek (2007)

Thematically, these are broken into two namely the Making strategy and executing strategy. The making strategy consists of the ideation, nature and vision domain and the executing strategy is made up of engagement, synthesis and transition domain.


  • Read textbooks or articles on strategy execution and try to understand the difference between strategy making and execution.
  • What have you been trying to execute, what behaviour do you need to model to achieve it?

4 Achieve superior results time after time

How can one achieve superior results time after time? What are the skills required to deliver such outcome? In an article the ‘The Leadership paradigm' Robert Dilts suggested that an effective leader should master the following skills:

Self-skills - development of self-mastery: self-control that enables the leader to lead oneself.

Relational skills - a kind of come into my world experience, where leader is able to share his aspirations with other people to involve them into the project

Strategic thinking skills - determines which operator or operations will most efficiently and effectively influence and move the present state in the direction of the desired state

Systemic thinking skills - an indispensible skill because it is at the root of effective problem solving and ability to create functional teams

He summarised that effective leadership skill involves the mastery of all the different elements, which make up a particle leadership situation, including:

Mastery of self (States) Mastery of Relationship (Rapport)

Balance Multiple perspectives

Congruence Thinking styles

Awareness Positive intention

Mastery of Communication Mastery of Problem Space (System)


Verbal and Non-Verbal Thoroughness

Representational Channels Relevance

Meta Messages Chunking


Larkin (2008) put the idea succinctly by saying that leadership is about being efficient as well as effective. He reasoned that for you to achieve your goal you have to define them but also make effort to attain them.

According to his analogy, you can be efficient but not effective. For example, an organised person at work may be efficient; and does not necessarily mean the person is moving in the right direction. To be effective, Larkin suggested the following:

  • You first need to define goal.
  • Then you must work back from them by identifying the range of activities and tasks that will move you toward these goals.
  • These activities and tasks must then be scheduled using planning tools.
  • You must review progress regularly.

Therefore, the achiever is fluent in both management and leadership skills. After all, management means ‘deciding what to do and getting it done through effective use of resource.'


  • Develop skills on the following techniques - planning, organising, delegating, communicating, motivation and controlling for achieving result.

  • Read textbooks on leadership to gain insight on the skills leader use to effect as well as manage change within organisations. A good book to read is ‘Ready To Lead? Prepare to think and act like a successful leader' by Enda Larkin,


‘Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.'

Jack Welch

Former Chairman and CEO of General Electric

In this article, I have tried to explore the challenges facing the employee in the 21st century in terms of the skill sets required in a changing field of work. If the employees do not want to maintain status quo in the midst of this dynamic systems, they need to develop new skills that will help them to be effective to survive changing pattern of work due to breaking of traditional structure making way for new. These paradigm shifts resulting in transformations in the way we work put a lot of challenge on the employees. In order to make progress they need to change their way of thinking to blend with adjustments thus presented in the field of work.

Hence, there is the need for workers to seek to develop leadership qualities that will be relevant in this context (workplace) as well as your personal life.

I think that the words of Jack Welch are very important one to heed.


Ann Henmann (2006) Articles: The Power of thinking like a CEO ... and Unlike One. Interview by \ Michele Molnar

Source: <> Accessed 29th October 2007.

John Maxwell(2005)'Thinking For A Change' 11 Ways Highly Successful People Approach Life and Work. Warner Business Books: New York.

Mark Morgan, Raymond E. Levitt and William Malek (2007) ‘Executing Your Strategy: How To Break It Down and Get It Done' Harvard Business School Press: Boston, Massachusetts.

Paul B. Thornton (2006) Best Leadership Advice: Business Success Secrets from 7 Top Leaders Sources <> Accessed 20th May 2006.

Robert Dilts (1996) The New leadership Paradigm: One of the most important set of skills. Source: <> Accessed 21st September 2008.

Copyright © 2008 Benjamin S C Ugoji


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    • lemmyC profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from UK

      Please I need feedback from the hun community on my latest hob on leadership; skills for the 21st century.

      Mant thanks

    • lemmyC profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from UK

      Please would you remove these obscene ads from my hub?


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