21st Century Leadership Skills

While many leadership skills withstand the test of time, today’s business leaders are required to bring traditional talents to new challenges and demands in a rapidly changing world of work. Getting comfortable with uncertainty and an ability to quickly pivot are key, as changing social, economic and technological forces are continuously reshaping organizations and those who work in and engage with them.

In a Deloitte Insights article, Introduction: Leading the social enterprise—Reinvent with a human focus, authors Erica Volini, Jeff Schwartz, Indranil Roy, Maren Hauptmann, Yves Van Durme, Brad Denny and Josh Bersin shared key findings gleaned from a Deloitte 2019 Global Human Capital Trends survey. They observed that:

"To be effective in the 21st century, leaders must take a nuanced approach to pursuing traditional business goals: an approach that takes into account the new context in which such goals must be achieved, and that draws on critical new competencies—including leading through change, embracing ambiguity and uncertainty, and understanding digital, cognitive, and AI-driven technologies—to get there."  (© 2019, Deloitte).

To dig a little deeper into how these new skills translate directly into the talent mobility space, Worldwide ERC® President and CEO, Peggy Smith, SCRP, SGMS-T, interviewed several industry leaders in video chats during the 2019 Americas Mobility Conference.

You can listen in and watch them all on You Tube, or, in this third of our five-part series, read highlights from many of them about what today’s leadership skills look like to them.

Two key challenges business leaders face today, Peggy notes, are adapting to talent shortages in general, and the added complexity of the seasonality of many business models in particular, greatly impacting supply and demand. For Mark Burchell, SGMS, Chief Commercial Officer with Sterling Lexicon, nowhere are these critical new competencies more evident for mobility than in the tech world, “where there truly is a war for talent.” He’s seeing companies innovate to meet changing needs. For example, many have had to rethink the treatment of deposits for rentals, as “many (new hires) are coming fresh out of college, need somewhere to live, and are in hot housing markets. Some companies don’t have the speed with which to process the payments for deposits…so we’re seeing more (instances of) advancing it to help them get in. In turn, we’re seeing recruitment and mobility working together more for a tightly connected benefit.” When Peggy asked him if he’s witnessing higher numbers of companies focusing more directly – or differently – on delivering a better employee experience, Mark responded affirmatively, noting that “there are a few drivers to that – the Tax Cuts and Job Act and moving expense tax changes have accelerated the movement to a lump-sum approach.” This, in turn, Mark observes, is creating a bit of “relocation friction” from employees used to having absolute power in their smart device, and making choices in an environment in which instantaneous responses, results, and immediate next-day delivery are the norm. On the other hand, while employers want to support and encourage freedom of choice and expedited processes, they also have to balance their compliance and duty-of-care needs and responsibilities. “I think the smart relocation companies are adapting to a world where you have to address both,” Mark observes. As far as crucial leadership skills go, Mark believes that, for any generation, “being a good listener” is an art we all need to learn and embrace.


As we listen to Steven John, SCRP, SGMS-T, President & CEO of HomeServices Relocation, LLC, we learn that embracing and adapting to change and uncertainty is a natural part of his daily business. “People like to say the rate of change is accelerating, but I think it’s always been there,” he notes. Prompted by Peggy to talk about the many converging forces that are reshaping leadership skills, Steven shared that one of the most obvious changes he’s seen is the way that artificial intelligence (AI) is impacting the way we work, and bringing a level of “intelligence assistance with certain aspects of our jobs that will make us all better, more powerful and better able to do things” in today’s offices. Cyber security is a good example, he adds, noting that the power of scanning and analyzing the risk level of the sheer volume of emails coming into the organization is a good use of that technology. But as much as tech frees up our time, he doesn’t see it replacing key human skills, observing that “We’re always going to need good leaders – whether in business or in government – good leadership will help and will allow businesses to compete and be successful.” When prompted by Peggy to cite the few words that immediately come to mind when thinking of what makes a “good leader,” Steven reflected on the importance of recognizing that the “folks who work for you are human” and adding that “frankly, there’s nothing that’s happening at work that is more important than their families and their lives at home, and I always try to make sure that people understand that and that’s where I want them to really succeed,” sharing that fostering a focus on that kind of culture and attitude ultimately helps them do better at work.


Adaptation to change comes in the form of a more situational leadership style or adjusting to meet individual and circumstantial needs for Pedro Sierra, GMS, Regional Vice President with Staff Relocation Services (SRS) de Mexico. As he navigates growing investment in and attracting new talent to Mexico, and works to cultivate greater partnerships between industry and educational and training institutions to develop the highly specialized skills needed to fill talent gaps, he places great value on paying attention to where everyone is on that personal journey. “You have to know what the stage of the situation is, you cannot be a strong leader all of the time, you have to be careful about what the moment needs and try to adapt to it. Sometimes it requires listening,” shares Pedro, reemphasizing the importance of that critical skill.


In his conversations with Peggy, Ben Heller, CEO and Chief Customer Officer of PricePoint offers an example of another type of adaptation that many of today’s leaders embody: borrowing the best ideas or lessons from one industry and applying them to create innovative solutions for another. He took what he learned in his procurement role and an entrepreneurial spirit to develop technology to help automate pricing for household goods movers. Initially working to develop RFPs for a variety of global services, Ben recognized that traditional approaches were doing a disservice to the mobility industry. In the course of that work, he added, he “fell in love” with it, noting that “there is no industry that has a supply chain quite as diverse and deep as this one – I felt so connected to the people and the warmth of the industry and knew I wanted to make my mark.” In responding to follow-up questions from Peggy around what that journey from procurement looked like, Ben shared that he and his co-founders set out to cultivate a mobility model to “offer a front-end solution to connect buyers to the movers, and the movers to their down-steam supply chain, and integrate the pricing so that the way they priced was the way that people bought.”


If embracing quick adaptation to rapidly changing circumstances all around us is a key part of leadership development in the 21st century, then Leo Capotorto, GMS, Director, Global Business Development with TRC Global Mobility, first earned his stripes on the professional soccer pitch in Argentina. From there, Leo saw an opportunity to embrace new learning, language and cultural challenges by enrolling in university in the United States, where he has remained since. For him, “disruptions are a good thing, not a bad thing.” He feels that it is important for organizations to adapt to disruptive business forces quickly, but in a controlled way. He acknowledges that individuals from different cultures bring unique views to the current challenges, observing that Latino culture tends to be more in a “go-with-the-flow” mindset, whereas businesses in the United States are very high energy, and he recommends taking a step back from the intensity every now and again to reflect on it and gain different perspectives.


When Peggy sat down with Christopher Ward, CRP, GMS, relationship manager with Associates for International Research, Inc. (AIRINC), she highlighted the need for agile leaders to be able to think on their feet, and asked him to give an example of how a client had surprised him recently. Chris shared that, heading into a global company like AIRINC, he did not anticipate the number of clients who would be looking for information on inter-company, domestic moves in locations like India, China and Mexico. He added that their research has shown these domestic moves are often administered by local HR teams, whose responsibilities may not fall within a typical mobility function.


For Julie Ann Wade, CRP, GMS, Total Rewards Administrator with Ball Corporation, two of the most important leadership traits are confidence and integrity, which translate into “believing in yourself and trusting that you’re going to do a good job.” She acknowledges that everybody is going to be faced with challenges at certain times, but sees the benefits of being upfront about that, and “hitting them straight on.” As she looks to help cultivate the next generation of leaders, Julie observes that “this is a people business – when you spend the energy to develop not just your (own) network, but to create the pathway to leadership, it makes you more valuable in your role.”


Vicki Hamp, SCRP, SGMS-T, Senior VP, Corporate Real Estate Services with Long & Foster Real Estate found her confidence as a leader from many wonderful mentors and friends, and adapting what she learned to her own style. She feels that “everybody has an opportunity to be a leader – it’s about influencing, being sincere, unassuming and knowing when those right moments are to not run away from conflict.” For Vicki, some of the key aspects of developing 21st century leadership skills, particularly in a four-generation workforce, are empowering others to make decisions, and cultivating a two-way street of open and honest communication about what’s going right or wrong. Peggy commented on the fact that many leaders may be tempted to coach employees from the top down, but acknowledged the value of Vicki’s choice to leave a “safe doorway for them to equally coach back.” Vicki shares that she appreciates that feedback and the value of “balancing yourself with people who are not like you.”

Up Next: Leadership Unplugged, Part IV: Compassionate Leadership

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