Get Your 21st Century Management Groove On

Did you look on the calendar today? Time is creeping by and we’re well past the 2000’s. Before you know it we’ll hit another milestone: 2020. That’s fully one FIFTH into the new century! And yet most of us are still struggling with our old 20th century ways of working. Old attitudes. Old habits. Old practices. So, it’s about time you got your 21st Century Management Groove on.

I suppose you may be sitting there then wondering, “OK, well what is ’21st century management’?” And the next thing you’ll do is Google it.


So, er, I go to Google and I put in “21st century management skills.” At the very top of the search results I see the following tidbit from an article in Graziadio Business Review:

Skills for 21st century management

  • 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.

Next in the search result is an article from Harvard Business Review boiling it down to just THREE skills:

3 Skills Every 21st Century Manager Should Have

  • Code Switching Between Cultures: Recognizing the globalized nature of many organizations and the frequency with which managers find themselves in cross-cultural setting, this is about “the ability to modify behavior in specific situations to accommodate varying cultural norms.”
  • Wielding Digital Influence: This critical skill considers the prevalence of online tools (LinkedIn, Twitter, yada yada) and is about “how managers can use these networks to gather information and wield influence in an increasingly interconnected, collaborative, and less-hierarchical workplace.”
  • Dividing Attention Deliberately: This one is about UN-learning an old 20th century skill. “Why should we make undivided attention an ideal and cling to it in an environment where it is so hard for us? Why not ‘unlearn’ that skill…?” We will see productivity increase when we can embrace the new reality of being tethered to our devices and of never focusing in on any one thing for very long.

Another search result is an article by Psychology Today, focusing on these five skills:

Five Essential Skills for Leadership in the 21st Century

  • Contribute Uniqueness
  • Act Effectively
  • Be Resilient
  • Embrace Change
  • Stay Grounded

And then I come to a standstill once I look to the next search result which reads, “25 Essential 21st Century Leadership Skills.” REALLY? TWENTY-FIVE? I just don’t think I would be acting effectively by keeping my attention deliberately undivided for long enough to analyze my way through such a long list of skills!

Now, the truth is this last article (which is really a summary of an entire book of the same title) is the most interesting of these top search results for “21st century management skills.” It’s worth a closer look. So bravo to James Strock and Serve to Lead.


If I’m being honest, my Google search didn’t help me much. So I bet it wouldn’t help you much either. We have a BIG question like, “What does 21st century management look like?” Yet we then scramble for quick, easy answers (I guess due to our deliberately divided attention). But we’ve gotta know that looking for a quick and dirty answer when seeking guidance on 21st century management skills may not be realistic.

So I’d like to offer an alternative to these too generic, or too idiosyncratic, or too complex lists of skills that you might find if you do a similar online search. If we truly want to get a 21st century management groove on, we need to go deeper than just looking for a list of skills. That’s very focused on “doing.” Yeah, we always want to rush and be told exactly what we need to do. But getting our 21st century management groove on is not merely a question of coming up with a quick checklist of skills, then going about getting trained to master those skills. No. It’s about our beliefs…our mindset…our attitudes toward work, and the workplace, and what it means to run effective organizations. It’s about adopting a progressive management posture that encourages us to take a step back and focus first on who we need to be instead of what we need to do.

To get your 21st century progressive management groove on, I’m going to invite you to choose to be three things:


I don’t care which philosophy it is. You can choose a view on leadership that makes sense to you and feels right for you. I only ask that in deciding upon what philosophy you’ll choose that you do some research. Read a lot. Share views with colleagues and see if you can align together around a shared philosophy for your organization. Do I have my own point of view? Sure. Would I like everyone to agree with mine and adopt it? I guess that would be nice for me. But it wouldn’t be effective for you.

What’s all too lacking all too often is the presence of an intentionally chosen philosophy of leadership guiding an organization’s deliberations and decision-making. We look for the fast answer by defining a list of competencies. That can come later. Start getting your groove on by thinking about your philosophy.


OK so we love honing in on a skill. I can meet you part way by suggesting an art, rather than a skill, we can focus on–the art of conversation. Getting a 21st century management groove on involves returning to the art of dialogue and exchange of views. I’m not referring to Twitter conversations, nor am I about to propose to you some kind of clever methodology for running an efficient conversation. We’ve got plenty of tools to use to help us get stuff done, but too many of us too often skip the meaningful part–conversation. Repeat it slowly: CON-VER-SA-TION. Lovely word.

Think about slowing down. Think about who it is with whom you most need to connect. Whom you need to hear from. Think about who it is that you haven’t even considered very much recently as someone who has anything you could possibly need. I know you’ll resist it because you’ll want to know, “What’s the agenda? What outcomes do I need to achieve?” Forget about that. Just go sit and start a conversation. See what happens.


Now that I’ve given you a suggestion to adopt an explicit set of beliefs about leadership, and have encouraged you to more frequently adopt of behavior of just having conversations, I’ll end with an example of attitude. That is, the attitude that while ultimately the broader organization matters when we are charged with management responsibilities, we need to look to the individuals first in order to be stewards of the whole. This means maintaining an attitude of interest and caring towards everyone around us. It means going beyond the transactional nature of an employer-employee relationship. Now this idea is not anything you haven’t already heard, but ask yourself–honestly–whether in your day-to-day you go very far past lip service for the idea that all the individuals around you matter. Or is it most important that the work just gets done?

Valuing and seeing individuals fully for who they are and all they have to offer is the ultimate step in getting your 21st century management groove on. This willingness to value every individual will inform the leadership philosophy you deliberately choose, and it will feed the quality of the conversations you choose to have. Being human-centered in your approach to management is the way to really keep on groovin’.


I’ll see you out on the dance floor!