What does successful 21st Century leadership look like? Well, according to a number of pretty eminent scholars and teachers, those who will help us navigate through this century’s challenges will only be able to do so if they can effectively manage across borders; collaborate for optimal results; and build strong connections with others, among other things. To me, this speaks to a kind of leadership that is more grey than black and white and more feminine in nature than masculine.
But having chewed on that for a while, I had to ask myself: Who among us could possibly be representative of a leader who exhibits a healthy combination of masculine and feminine, leadership traits?
And I came up with Julie Payette.
Julie Payette is Chief Astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency and to me, a shining example of the kind of leadership required to thrive in the 21st Century. Her choice of occupation suggests that she is a risk taker. She is compelling, imaginative, humble and appreciative of all that has come her way. And, while she works, and leads, in a traditionally masculine environment, she has maintained her distinctly feminine demeanour.
Here is a video clip of Julie speaking to graduates of York University in Toronto.
Julie is a hard act to follow. But a wise leader might do just that, because her experiences contain lessons we would do well to consider if we are to thrive now, and in the future
So what lessons am I talking about? Well, I can think of a few and here they are:
If we think ambition, drive & focus and collaboration, inclusion & openness are mutually exclusive, we would probably be wrong.
The traditional view of a successful leader almost always includes the first three characteristics, (generally viewed as masculine) but does not necessarily embrace the other three, (generally viewed as feminine). To successfully navigate the 21st century world we have to combine and apply all of these skills. It’s not a matter of either/or but more a matter of both/and that will lead to a productive and happy result.
If we rise high enough and look down, the borders that separate us disappear.
As much as we struggle with our territories and boundaries and with our mistaken or distorted views of each other, the truth is, none of it really matters when you’re looking at the world from space.
The 21st Century leader will find ways to navigate across borders and boundaries, real and imagined, and will do so by reaching out to learn about things and people s/he may not currently understand, in service of making meaningful and vigorous connections with others.
If we learned to really value our differences rather than grudgingly accommodate them, we would be a lot better off.
In one interview, Julie suggests that while in space, differences become assets and the team is more important than any one individual. Back on Earth, the notion of diversity, for many of us, tends to stop at gender or ethnicity. In a time when we are constantly connecting with people all over the world this is simply not enough. And, for a smart leader, this means staying purposely open to a variety of ideas, cultures and opinions; judging less; listening more; and using our uniqueness, and that of others, as a tool not a weapon.
To build relationships with people we may never meet face-to-face, we have to learn to communicate in a variety of ways.
Julie Payette speaks five different languages. When asked why she was so interested in language she said that, for her, it was important to communicate with as many people as possible and her interest in languages stemmed from that. Technology too, has provided us with a multitude of ways to talk to one another. The 21st Century leader will give priority to learning and using what technology has to offer for engaging people in meaningful and productive conversations.
There are, of course, many lessons we could learn from Julie and others like her. And my hunch is there are more like her among us than we currently imagine. To thrive in the 21st century we have to make room for their voices to come through and to break with traditions that no longer serve us, no matter how precious they might seem to be. What do you think?