The Competencies for 21st Century Manager

Table of Content

Managers in the 21st century are dealing with an extraordinary amount of challenges. The workforce is changing quickly, environmental risks are on the rise, technology is advancing rapidly, globalization is affecting organizations, competition is growing stronger, and stakeholders have increased their demands on organizations. As a result, modern managers have a complex and stressful role. Over the past 150 years, scholars like Adam Smith, Max Weber, Taylor, Fayol, Mayo, and Peter Drucker have introduced various management theories that greatly impacted organizations in the 20th century.

Modern managers face challenges that have highlighted the importance of specific competencies for 21st century management. The traditional perception of managers as authoritative figures has become obsolete, as their role has shifted from supervision to service. A well-known quote from Rotary International captures this shift: ‘Service above self’. The concept of “Servant Leadership” was introduced by Robert K. Greenleaf in his 1970 essay titled The Servant as Leader. Greenleaf defines a servant-leader as someone who prioritizes serving others above everything else.

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Choosing to lead consciously sets individuals apart from those who prioritize simply being a leader. This differentiation may stem from an intense yearning for power or the accumulation of material possessions. The contrasting personas of leader-first and servant-first represent two opposing extremes, with a wide range of variations that mirror the boundless diversity found in human nature. The disparity becomes apparent through the servant-first’s unwavering commitment to meeting the most critical needs of others. Assessing whether those being served are experiencing personal growth presents a difficult but profoundly meaningful evaluation.

Is there an improvement in the health, knowledge, freedom, autonomy, and likelihood to serve others for individuals as they are being served? Additionally, how does this impact the most disadvantaged members of society? Do they benefit or avoid further marginalization? The alternative concept of Stewardship brings up the idea of redefining our expectations from those in power. One important aspect of stewardship is the duty to protect the well-being of a larger entity – whether it’s our organization, community, or even the Earth itself. Meeting this responsibility requires placing service above control and abandoning the expectation for leaders to always be in charge and leading from the front.

The concept of leadership is associated with a sense of pride, as it involves providing guidance. On the other hand, stewardship is characterized by humility and serving others. Service is crucial in leadership and has been present in religious contexts, such as the epic writings of India and books like Arthashastra, as well as being mentioned in the Bible. In a community, individuals have the opportunity to hold positions of power granted by those they lead. By fulfilling our role through serving those who have given us power, the core workers become the ultimate recipients of our service and trusteeship within an organization.

The community is the group to whom we are accountable. The board or executive who appoint us derive their authority from both those who do the work and any other set of owners (Stewardship; Peter Block). In the 21st century, managers need important competencies. These include being a visionary, possessing skills in running a company, knowledge of administrative principles, organization, planning, estimating outcomes, and knowing how to conduct proper personnel policies.

However, a successful manager goes beyond technical expertise – they must also possess visionary qualities that can guide and inspire a team towards success. Vision entails seeing beyond conventional solutions and outcomes, and instead recognizing the creative potential within a company and its employees. It involves fostering an environment that encourages individual success and fosters personal growth. A visionary manager cultivates an open and accepting work atmosphere, where individuals feel comfortable sharing suggestions and making innovations.

Challenging a visionary does not intimidate them, even if the challenger possesses greater skills in areas where the manager excels. The distinction between being a manager and a leader is evident. Management is considered a profession, while leadership is viewed as a calling. Effective leadership does not necessitate height, eloquence, or attractiveness. It also does not require possessing any specific attribute. Rather, it requires having well-defined beliefs and most importantly, the courage to act on them.

To transition from a manager to a leader, it is crucial to understand the role of being a guide and steward based on your own core values. Regardless of what you call the people you oversee – employees, associates, co-workers, teammates, or any other term – they want someone they can rely on. They are looking for an individual who is committed to the greater good for both them and the organization. They seek someone who not only has leadership skills but also genuinely inspires others to follow. This is because having followers – individuals who have entrusted you with their trust – is the ultimate sign that you have become a leader.

From your viewpoint, your organization is exceeding past achievements in quality, productivity, innovation, and revenue. The manager excels at preserving the existing state and delivering consistent profitability. Conversely, leaders are individuals who identify fresh opportunities and establish the values of the organization.

  • Develop great talent and makes the organization better simply by being a part of it
  • See new opportunities and push the organization in new directions
  • Act as a moral compass for the organization, someone whose values are going to be adopted by others in the company

As the primary product of every business becomes information and knowledge keeps growing, everyone will become a learner and promoting learning in the organization will be the foremost task of managers. Managers, in their role as facilitators of individual and organizational learning, may act as instructors, coaches, or mentors to other learners. The facilitator role of managers in the L&D process is crucial.

Managers have the potential to drive change and contribute to organizational learning through their personal development. This involves acquiring management knowledge through education, training, and on-the-job learning (Learning & Development for Managers; Eugene Saddler-Smith; 2006). Furthermore, managers also serve as important communicators within the organization. As techniques such as planning, strategizing, decision-making, and problem-solving become more common among all members of the organization, there is a need for improved communication. To meet this demand, managers will increasingly depend on dialogue and other communication tools.

A manager needs to possess excellent communication skills in order to excel in their role. Communication is crucial for a manager to effectively convey their vision. Simply posting vision statements on message boards may attract attention, but it is important to take further steps to ensure that the team truly understands and embraces the vision.

Effective communication is crucial for both expressing your vision and conducting daily business activities. Managers must possess and be supported on five important competencies: Context Building, Active Listening, Coaching, Sharing, and Engaging. To ensure the success of face-to-face communication programs, it is essential for managers to have awareness, understanding, and the necessary support of communication processes and information related to these competencies.

As technology and information continue to reshape our lives, change management will become a regular part of business operations. Managers will act as change agents, guiding everyone in adopting the best new practices. Additionally, managers will also need to organize the knowledge that exists within the organization, especially the knowledge that is held by various employees. This task is crucial for the success of organizations in a competitive world and to become world-class organizations, especially for large multi-divisional organizations. In this evolving landscape, management will become a multi-task function. Boundaries are disappearing both within organizations and in the larger world, expanding the scope of management. Managers will be expected to have expertise in organizational development, diversity management, facilitation, and consultation.

Date: 19th December 2009
Original article By the author Aurobinda Panda

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The Competencies for 21st Century Manager. (2018, Mar 07). Retrieved from

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