Roles of Leaders In the 21st Century

Sunil Krishan Kumar |, Director | Aglaia Interactive Solutions[Roles of Leaders, 21st Century, digital marketing, digital marketing firm, Leadership, businessskill, business magazine]
Sunil Krishan Kumar |, Director | Aglaia Interactive Solutions

‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn’ – Alvin Toffler, futurist author.

Nearly 20 years into the second millennium, what sort of world are we looking at? Is it an Orwellian Big brother nightmare with huge technology companies straddling the globe, or an exciting time with more scope for individualism, creativity, and innovation?

Without stating the obvious, the role of a leader simply put is to create a vision, set goals and inspire people to accomplish them. Human society has always been motivated to achieve great things by visionaries who saw beyond the mundane channelizing their energies along with the collective to achieve extraordinary results. Even the Bhagavad Gita mentions this folksy wisdom in an eloquent verse which states that whatever great people do, the rest merely follow.

Make Change Happen

The 21st century is even more challenging as leaders are faced with an increasingly complex business environment. Organizations are being restructured with more virtual, open and modular organizations emerging and gaining traction.

Case in point- Instagram and Whatsapp, both acquired by Facebook for astronomical sums had merely 13 and 35 employees respectively at the time. This would be shocking to people accustomed to mammoth workforces and multiple locations for most of the 20th century.

Globalization has made the world more interconnected although localization still remains a primary imperative. Growing diversity, increasing education, and access have transformed the workforce. Leaders need to be more accepting, creative and inclusive to create a really world-class organization. Companies more or less think of a global paradigm, rather than the comfortable small niche or zone they had been accustomed to.

Leaders need to be more aware and empathetic along with basic intelligence and managerial acumen that was always required. Strategic opportunists are required along with an ability to embrace failure, innovate and move on quickly. Pragmatists like Elon Musk are required who proudly proclaim that a lack of failure equates to stilted innovation.

The ability to anticipate and manage risk needs to be the hallmark of an adept 21st-century leader. An unstable political and business environment, natural or man-made disasters, obsolete skills of the workforce, cyber threats are only some of the vectors that can disrupt even the smoothest, well-oiled corporate machine. A successful leader does not linger too long stuck with a one-dimensional view of things, but takes smart, calculated risks.

A comprehensive and honest internal audit is a must to avoid complacency. The tendency to become risk-averse due to fear needs to be avoided. It is an implicit fact that challenges lead to stress, but a successful leader knows how to navigate these tricky cross-currents with courageous informed decisions.

Think Global, Act Local 

Even though the government has announced a slew of measures to facilitate ease of business, India remains one of the most challenging countries in the world for industry. With overcrowded cities, increasing pollution and millions more poised to enter the workforce, the demographic dividend can prove to be an advantage or a curse. Leaders in India need increasingly to think global and act local.

Although there is no harm in adopting global best practices and ensuring the best possible deal for clients and customers, there is a myopia seen in the Indian business environment. We need to evolve an original Indian idiom rather than emulating an alien thought process in toto.

Sharpening accountability is also critical given the spate of defaults, scams, and scandals. Apart from strong political will and leadership that is essential, Indian business leaders are needed to make the country’s presence felt across the globe.

Apart from a few pockets of excellence, there is a lack of succession planning in most organizations. Professional leaders with a focus on creating a culture of innovation apart from the basic execution of deliverables are needed. Family and friend fiefdoms need to be avoided to create a long-term sustainable brand with a global footprint.

Disruptive digital business models mean that turn-around time needs to be quicker. Delays can often prove to be fatal. People do not judge leaders and companies merely on financial metrics, but the overall impact they have on the social, cultural and physical environment.

Media can make or break reputations in split seconds. Leaders serving for 30 years can be ousted in a day with adverse publicity.

The new-age business honcho needs to be both media and tech-savvy. Fossilized views in isolated silos are a sure shot recipe for failure. Giving effective feedback along with interfacing with multiple stakeholders is part of the job. A good leader has to be a great listener.

To sum up, the roles of leaders in the 21st century are to be creative, innovative, pioneering, visionary, perceptive and agile.

About the Author 

A versatile, creative and multi-faceted individual, Sunil Kumar is the President of Aglaia Interactive Solutions Pvt. Ltd, a Mumbai-based digital marketing firm. A postgraduate from the University of Westminster-London; Sunil believes that passion and creativity are two sides of the same coin.

The author of two books, Existential Angst and Surreal City catalogued in the US South Asian Literature List, Amazon and the British Council, he has also presented a research paper in an IEEE conference in Salvador, Brazil on the ‘Human Side of Globalization’.

His company Aglaia Interactive received a ‘Microsoft Bizspark’ award in the first year of its inception, and was recognized among ‘Top 50 Digital Marketing Companies in India’ by the World Marketing Congress in 2016 and 2018. The firm aspires to build business partnerships, expand its global footprint and encourage a culture of creative freedom, thought leadership, and innovation.


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