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21st Century Leadership

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The intent of this paper is to review some of the qualities and traits of leadership that will be critical as American society continues into the 21st century. The focus of this paper will be on societal leadership, specifically, the political leadership of the United States. This paper will present the theory that there are several skills necessary in our leadership for the continued success of American society.

There can be no question that the future holds great challenges for our future leaders. Where will scientific advances and technological advances be in twenty years? Where will they be in fifty years? What unique stresses and challenges will be presented by these advances? American military predominance may very likely continue for the foreseeable future, but what about American economic predominance? The challenges for American political leadership will likely be as unpredictable as they will be relentless. The qualities of emotional intelligence, as characterized by Daniel Goleman, in his book Emotional Intelligence will serve as the guideline for much of this discussion.

In Resonant Leadership; Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others Through Mindfulness, Hope, and Compassion authors Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee outline the highly stressful condition that leadership faces in today’s challenging business environment. Resonant Leadership continues the work begun in Daniel Goleman’s work on Emotional Intelligence. Authors Boyatzis and McKee apply the concepts of emotional intelligence to business leadership roles. As leaders experience extended periods of high stress, they fall in to what the authors call “dissonance.” Just as in business leadership, these highly stressful conditions also exist for society’s leadership. Both business and societal leaders can greatly benefit from the advice and prescriptions outlined in Resonant Leadership.

According to Boyatzis and McKee, one of the skill sets of a resonant leader is mindfulness. “When we talk about mindfulness, we mean living in a state of full and conscious awareness of one’s whole self, other people, and the context in which we live and work.”1 The mindful leader pays attention to his or her intuition and is very in touch with the people and events that are surrounding them. The mindful leader approaches events with openness and awareness.

It is my personal theory that an important aspect of mindfulness for our leadership is that leadership must be able to see things as they are. Conflicting opinions and agendas in the political arena and the mainstream press can create a very unclear picture of recent events. Many in politics and in journalism are masters at re-framing historical events by carefully choosing words that can greatly affect how events are interpreted. Being able to see through to the heart of complex situations clouded by competing agendas and see events clearly is an indispensable skill.

President John F. Kennedy gave his most memorable speech in Berlin in 1963. Although the speech was wildly popular in West Berlin, many in the U.S. press were critical of his confrontational verbiage. Kennedy even took criticism from within the State Department, as the speech undermined the official U.S. position that all of Berlin was under joint occupation by the Allied powers. As Kennedy pointed out in his speech, there were many people who claimed that Communism was the wave of the future and that the U.S. should be trying to work with the Communists. Kennedy’s speech stripped away these confusions and pointed out the de facto occupation of much of Berlin and East Germany by the Soviet Union. Many would argue that Kennedy laid the groundwork for the eventual fall of the Berlin wall and freedom for millions of citizens throughout Eastern Europe. Kennedy’s clear and direct language was a direct result of Kennedy’s vision of the world and America’s unique role in the cause of freedom.

Another of the qualities of a resonant leader is hope. “Hope engages and raises our spirits and mobilizes energy. It causes us to want to act and enables us to draw on personal resources in the service of moving toward our goal.”2 The leader of the 21st century must offer and inspire hope. A hope for the future will also require a vision of the future that not only aligns with American values, but a vision that aligns us with the future. Hope, very simply, can be inspired through a compelling vision of our future.

This mindful leader must also be willing to stay with the vision, even in the face of enormous pressure to alter the path. Election pressures, negative press reports and a vocal opposition can bring enormous pressures on a political leader to set the vision aside and do what is expedient. Having a cohesive and inspirational

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