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The Leadership Mindset Of The 21st Century

The result of purpose-driven leadership is unleashed creativity, enhanced collaboration, and engagement, as well as courage for experimentation. A purpose-driven mindset is about understanding that we humans like to do meaningful tasks.

Simon Nopp
Simon Nopp
"Any company designed for success in the 20th century is doomed to failure in the 21st” (David S. Rose).

Many operations and concepts worked well in the last decades. But in the digital world of today, many of those are outdated. Companies and especially their leaders must shift their mindset from 20th-century thinking to become 21st-century thinkers in order to stay future-proof.

There are many articles out there discussing relevant skillsets for the future, yet, only little is written about the importance of having the right mindset. Without the right mindset, companies and their leadership stay imprisoned in old and outdated habits. Building a future-proof company, therefore, starts with a transformation of the underlying mindset.

Like any muscle, you can also build your mindset. But what are some important mindset characteristics of successful leaders in the 21st century?

1. A technology mindest:

Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, drones, nanotechnology, solar energy, biotechnology, 3D printing, quantum computing, and many more will impact all - and will disrupt many industries. And it will happen sooner than you expect. If organizations want to stay ahead, managers and leaders are required to be aware of the upcoming changes, understand their implications, and think about how these technologies can be leveraged for themselves. This entails an understanding of the difference between exponential and linear growth. Why is that so important? Because it enables leaders to make better predictions and design new inventions with future technologies in mind. Consider Elon Musk. He is not thinking about what we, or technology, is currently able to do – he looks 5 years ahead and designs solutions that will be aligned with the capabilities of these technologies in 5 years ahead.

The technology mindset is not necessarily about having programming or engineering skills. It is about including technological changes in your strategic planning and thinking “technological” whenever you try to improve your business.

2. A purpose-driven mindset:

Many companies do not know what problem they are trying to solve. They are also not aware of what impact they want to achieve in this world. So why are they doing what they are doing? As Simon Sinek says, start with the why, before what and how. If companies become purpose-driven, they have a clear focus, can rally people around their cause and find new opportunities to scale. A key instrument is the identification of a massive transformative purpose (MTP). It is a higher aspirational purpose, it lets you know why the organization exists, and it is about guiding radical transformation.

But it is not enough that the top of the organization knows their why. If companies want to transform the distressing high amount of disengaged workforce to a fully engaged workforce, employees must understand the why of the organization and the impact it is striving to achieve. The same is true for the leaders. Just imagine next to the company, the managers and leaders have identified their purposes. The respective leaders start to form purpose teams to unite each other and strive for one common impact. Each team member can bring in their passion and knows exactly why they are doing what they are doing. The result of purpose-driven leadership is unleashed creativity, enhanced collaboration, and engagement, as well as courage for experimentation.

A purpose-driven mindset is about understanding that we humans like to do meaningful tasks. It is about understanding that bringing people together for a common cause because we all share the identified why, has immense effects on engagement, satisfaction, productivity levels, and motivation. The purpose-driven mindset is about understanding that the why matters more than you might think and incorporating it in your thinking.

3. A people empowerment mindset:

There is a general agreement that strict hierarchical structures are outdated. New structures like network structures or structures completely based on decentralized teams following a scrum methodology (like Spotify) are becoming more popular and yielding better results. The underlying goal of these structures is to give more autonomy to individuals and teams.

A prerequisite for the successful transformation of modern organizational structures is that the management is embracing this change. In modern structures, managers and leaders must shift from someone who executes to somebody who enables and empowers employees to achieve the best performance. The modern leader is a servant leader, who gives guidance, support, and shares information with the employees. The mantra is to let people bring in their ideas and perform, by trusting and enabling them.

The people empowerment mindset is about developing trust and letting go. Leaders have to understand that their role is not to rise and shine anymore, but to empower and serve.

4. An experimentation mindset:

Start-ups are doing a great job with experimentation and make use of lean-start up thinking and design thinking. But as soon as companies become more established entities they are settling in to maintain their status quo and forget about experimentation.

Yet, there is not one single industry that can just maintain their status quo, resist the change, and still stay competitive in today's fast-changing world. It is necessary for leaders to have an experimentation mindset that enables the entire team to try out new things, test quickly, fail and learn, and move forward.

Companies and teams will not be successful with their innovation activities if they do not change their mindset first. Leaders of today must understand that experimentation is imperative. It is not something you can do one’s a year, it must be done continuously and be part of the team culture.

The experimentation mindset is about understanding the need and value of experimentation and incorporating this mindset into your leadership activities. The experimentation mindset allows leaders and organizations to realize the benefits of the technology-, people- empowerment, and purpose mindset. It enables you to design innovations that generate a positive impact in the world through the passion and collaboration of people and the capabilities of emerging technologies.

Now I have one question for you at the end:

Is your organization or are you still trapped in a mindset of the 20th century?

Simon Nopp is a dedicated OpenExO community member. Check out or email if you would like to learn more about it.

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