What is a Modern Leader? (Leadership in the 21st Century)

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Taken together, these forces are creating a new context for leadership. We experienced a tremendous shift in the global balance of power, which manifests itself in our business. In the s, over 80 percent of Deutsche Bank revenues were generated in Germany. In the mids, they still accounted for about 70 percent.

Leading in an age of upheaval

Today, Germany, despite its continuing economic strength, stands for 38 percent of global revenues. Managing risk also has become much more complex for banks. Increasingly, financial markets are becoming political markets. That requires different skills—skills not all of us have acquired at university; how to properly deal with society, for example, a stakeholder that has immensely grown in importance since the financial crisis. There are two kinds.

There are internal crises that arise because a company has not been managed well.

Then there are external crises, like the collapse of Lehman Brothers or the earthquake in Japan or the flood in Thailand. In that case, you are managing your company, and all of a sudden there is this thing falling on you. Business schools may prepare people to deal with internal crises. We are going to have a lot more of these external crises because we are living in such a volatile world—an age where everything is leveraged and technology moves so fast. You can be rocked by something that originated completely outside your area. I think one of the reasons Nissan has been able to cope with external crises better than some of our competitors is that we have a more diverse, multinational culture.

We are accustomed to always looking around, trying to find out who has the best ideas. Our people in the US talk to our people in Japan on an equal level.


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We have a lot more reference points. You have to be able to react very quickly. And the world is so connected that the feedback loops are more intense. We matched our focus, our research and development, and our capital expenditures up against megatrends like these over the last five years. This is the future, so we need to understand how our science relates to it. The last two decades have witnessed the greatest revolution since Genesis. States have lost their importance and strength. The old theories—from Adam Smith to Karl Marx—have lost their value because they are based on things like land, labor, and wealth.

All of that has been replaced by science. Ideas are now more important than materials. And ideas are unpredictable. Science knows no customs, no borders. Science creates a world where individuals can play the role of the collective. Two boys create Google. One boy creates Facebook. Another individual creates Apple. These gentlemen changed the world without political parties or armies or fortunes.

Leadership in the 21st Century - Social Fabric

No one anticipated this. And they themselves did not know what would happen as a result of their thoughts. So we are all surprised. It is a new world. You may have the strongest army—but it cannot conquer ideas, it cannot conquer knowledge. The rigors of leadership have prompted many leaders to think of themselves as being in training, much like a professional athlete: There is a growing recognition of the connection between physical health, emotional health, and judgment—and of how important it can be to have precise routines for diet, sleep, exercise, and staying centered.

The first criterion is: I start at five in the morning. I go for a minute run. I do weight training three mornings a week. I try to eat well, but not too much. I try to get a good walk every weekend. I go on walking vacations. So I read poetry now: You can take a Larkin poem and read it on the bus in 15 minutes. The good ones stay with you and will come back to you. Just to give you an idea of my calendar for the next ten days: With all this traveling, physical stamina has become much more important.

I remember a time when after flying to Hong Kong you could take a whole day off to recover. Today, right after landing you rush to your first meeting. And maybe you already have a conference call in the car on your way into town. You are lucky if you get enough time to take a shower. And of course, with all the new information technology, you are constantly available, and the flow of information you have to manage is huge; that has added to the pressure. You are much more exposed to unforeseen shifts and negative surprises and you have to make quick decisions and respond to or anticipate market movements around the world.

So you have to have a very stable psyche as well.

I see more and more people these days who just burn out. I still like to have paper in front of me and I do a lot in written-memo form. I think people who constantly use their BlackBerry or iPhone easily lose sight of the big picture. It also helps me enormously that I can sleep anywhere, whether I am in a car or an airplane.

Some people do meditation or yoga. I talk to my team about the seductions that come with taking on a leadership role. There are many different forms: You need to be aware of how you can be seduced in order to be able to resist and keep your integrity. Leaders often forget the importance of stable emotional relationships—especially outside the company. It helps tremendously to manage stress. Your partner will do a lot to help keep you in sync.

You have to be able to switch on and switch off. Leading takes a lot of stamina. I became CEO at But I was working like a beast. And now companies are more global. So you have jet lag, you are tired, the food is different. You have to be very disciplined about schedules and about organizing everything. Physical discipline is crucial, for food, exercise, sleep. I live like a monk—well, maybe not a monk, but a Knight Templar. I wake at a certain hour, sleep at a certain hour. I spend a lot more time on communication, more time out at plant sites, in sales offices, with customers, in our research laboratories.

I come away from these engagements with ideas, energy, and a real sense of focus on where we as a company need to go. The mind of a leader must be free—a mind that can dream and imagine. All new things were born in dreams. A leader must have the courage to be a nonconformist, just like a scientist.


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He must dream, even if he dreams alone or if people laugh at him. He must not let his heart falter. Today, the separation between generations is stronger than between nations.

Leadership in the 21st Century

For them, the modern equipment of communication is what paper and pen are for us. Nearly everyone we spoke with commented on the challenge of dealing with constant scrutiny and of acting as a connector in a complex ecosystem. CEOs have become highly public figures. And media scrutiny has become very personal. You are the institution you lead. After I became CEO, the former head of the Bundesbank one day took me aside and gave me some valuable advice: You are the person whom you and your friends know, but you are also a symbol for something.

Never confuse the two. People have a legitimate demand for access to the CEO. But you have to modulate that so you avoid overexposure. And the press will paint you as either a hero or a villain—whatever sells. Additionally, its inclusive culture was one acclaim for its ability to foster both trust and creativity. As systems grow larger and more complex, leaders must be able to transition from Teachers to Learners, developing new expertise on the fly in order to pull the right resources together, at the right time, from across departments.

This does not mean, however, that Learners silo themselves.

The New World Demands New Kinds Of Leadership

Tim Cassola, organisational designer at the Ready, helps Fortune leaders adapt to the new world of work. That requires a mind open to continuous education, not only for employees, but for himself. With a hunger to explore new opportunities, a cognitive ability to absorb them and a knack for taking decisive action, the leader-as-learner applies new knowledge to help her organisation prosper.

The Mobiliser senses and responds to organisational needs and facilitates vital change. Employees who regularly shared information about worker safety, gradually started sharing all sorts of other information including ways to boost efficiency and productivity. One of the results of all this knowledge flow: Alcoa became one of the first companies to use an intranet, catapulting it light years ahead of its competitors.

His management style is pretty darn simple: Pichai is a Giver who is thriving in the new economy.


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Abraham Lincoln was a Giver. He set ego aside, appointing his bitter opponents to the Cabinet knowing this would best serve American citizens. Lincoln was renown for putting the interest of others before his own. And when a leader has giver qualities it also helps to attract top talent and lowers turnover rates. Givers play the long game. While Takers might win meter sprints, Givers win gold in marathons.

Modern leaders can leverage these four modes to foster the kind of creative environment that enables employees to be their best and most productive selves.