21st Century Leadership

In his Business Times article, Business writer James Ashton identified nine distinctive types of 21st century global leaders as as shown above.

In particular, Ashton highlighted Humans and Campaigners as the leadership styles most likely to thrive during this trying period. The competing forces of the COVID-19 pandemic and the burgeoning influence of digital solutions have been two standout events that have shaped lives across the globe.

The former has seen a protracted estrangement of the global workforce as a transition towards flexible work arrangements has been driven by the imposition of social distancing measures, with work being no exception to these regulations. As for the latter, the emergence of digital alternatives such as online shopping had already begun prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, the enforced lockdown presented the perfect opportunity for more digital solutions to establish themselves. A prime example will be tele-conferencing tools such as zoom and Microsoft Teams, which have enjoyed an precedented rise to prominence in the last year.

Navigating such uncertain times have proven to be challenging for many, with poor economic conditions and a sudden shift to remote working catching many off-guard and unprepared. With workers undertaking new responsibilities and encountering foreign circumstances, leaders that exhibit conviction with courage, compassion and authenticity, namely the Humans and Campaigners, will shine brighter than all others.

Ashton's assertion that Human and Campaigners-type leaders thrive better than the other types of leaders identified can also be understood by consulting the (essentials) characteristics of Real Leaders as identified by the REAL leaders framework by Dr. Peter Cheng and Dr. Lily Cheng, as shown below.

The Real® Leaders Framework®Real® Leaders are characterised by the 6Cs of “What-ness” and “Who-ness”(Competence, Creating An Inclusive Environment, Compassion, Character,Conviction with Courage, and Credibility) and are committed to Shape Culture and Drive Performance.

Human and Campaigner-type leaders suit the archetype of an effective leader demarcated by six distinctive (essentials) characteristics of Real Leaders. The first 3 (essentials) characteristics enhance team performance.


Real leaders demonstrate expertise in what is expected and required of their position. They display a propensity to equip themselves and their constituents with the requisite knowledge, skills and attitudes to perform their role effectively and efficiently.


Real leaders ensure that their constituents feel belonged in their team and organisation. They promote respectful and collaborative relationships that hinge on open communication and embrace diversity to harness synergy among team and organisational members.


Real leaders exercise care by empathising with others and showing concern for their holistic development. They appreciate their constituents’ predicaments and provide the needed support to them through life and work challenges.

The remaining 3 (essentials) characteristics contribute towards shaping culture.


Real leaders exhibit character that is built on morals, ethics and noble values. They applaud pro-social behaviours for the common good of others in the community. They inspire their constituents to embrace positive thinking and demonstrate nobility to make the world a better place.


Real leaders embrace strong beliefs within ethical and moral parameters that affirm them to take a clear stand that will not waver when faced with invalid oppositions. They see opportunities in crisis and stretch their constituents to pursue ennobling agenda that impacts the community.


Real leaders are clear about their values and walk the talk that is aligned with their values. They enlist their constituents through role-modelling shared values, promoting authenticity, trust and delivering promises.

Take time to reflect on on your leadership team agains the backdrop of the 6 distinctive essentials/ characteristics of Real Leaders. What actions might you want to take for yourself and your leadership team to thrive  and lead in this 21st century?

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