6 skills young leaders need for the 21st century

Madlen Popignatova 17
Article by: Sophie Poulsen
6 skills young leaders need for the 21st century

This article was updated on July 27, 2021.

You just got promoted. Now you’re the boss.

There’s just one problem: You want to maintain the same relationship and dynamic with your co-workers, but you are torn between being a “member” and being a leader.

We spoke to over 50 participants in the THNK EMERGE: Lead With Courage program about the challenges they face as (new) managers. One of the most common challenges that came up was navigating the transition from membership to leadership.

In the EMERGE program, we focus on six key skills we believe will make young professionals more effective leaders, ready to drive positive change:

1. Self-awareness


It all starts with you.

In order to be an effective leader, you must first know yourself: What drives you? What are your strengths, passions, and values?

By becoming more self-aware, you will be better able to recognize your weaknesses and hidden biases, thereby gaining the trust of your team members and increasing your credibility.

Luckily, self-awareness can be taught and practiced.

In the EMERGE program, we use the Leadership Compass, a tool for participants to explore their strengths, passions, and values to paint a picture of the type of leader they want to be.

2. Learning mindset

All leaders – but especially emerging leaders – need to have a desire to learn as well as encourage their teams to learn. Fostering this kind of learning culture can only have positive effects, such as improved employee engagement, happiness, and retention.

Research from Deloitte also shows that organizations with a strong learning culture are 92% more likely to develop innovative products and processes, 52% more productive, 56% more likely to be the first to market with their products and services, and 17% more profitable than their peers. Their engagement and retention rates are also 30-50% higher. 

A key ingredient of a healthy learning culture is the ability to give (and receive) feedback effectively. By making feedback a regular part of the cadence of work, leaders can create an environment where teammates are giving and receiving feedback regularly, and therefore flexing their feedback muscles. Feedback is an important prerequisite for a culture of continuous improvement.

21st century leadership skills
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3. Deep listening

In the EMERGE program, we focus on topics like psychological safety, healthy conflict, and building a learning culture.

Deep listening lies at the core of all of these topics.

For new leaders, deep listening allows you to connect, empathize, and truly hear someone. When you practice deep listening, you’ll find yourself uncovering the other person’s needs and values. As a result, your people will feel heard, valued, and cared for – and when your people feel heard, they are more engaged and effective in their jobs.

A global study of over 4,000 employees found that 74% of employees are more effective at their job when they feel heard and 88% of employees whose companies financially outperform others in their industry feel heard compared to 62% of employees at financially underperforming companies.

Here are some tips to improve your listening skills:

  • Use mindfulness to calm your own inner chatter.
  • Let go of your own agenda to open your mind to new information and perspectives.
  • Ask “what if” questions to connect with the other person in a safe, optimistic, and productive way.

4. Conflict management

As a new leader, avoiding conflict is not an option. It can be tempting to bottle up your feelings, but these conflict-avoiding tendencies can cause dysfunctional work environments, mediocre results, strained communication, and high turnover.

The opposite of avoiding conflict is not seeking conflict. The opposite of avoiding conflict is “effective assertion”: an honest and appropriate expression of your opinions, feelings, and needs. Being assertive can reduce conflict, build your self-confidence, and improve your personal and work relationships.

Everyone approaches conflict differently – but as a team leader, you can learn how to manage conflict in a healthy, productive way. In the EMERGE program, participants explore the idea of “healthy conflict,” a constructive approach to solving conflict that fosters respect and enables everyone involved to grow. As part of this, participants will learn non-violent communication techniques to improve their conflict management skills.

Want to get a head start? Check out these five tips to practice healthy conflict.

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The opposite of avoiding conflict is not seeking conflict. #conflictmanagement #leadershipskills #conflict #confidence #leader Click To Tweet

5. Influencing without authority

You don’t have to be the CEO, the investor, or even the most senior person in the room to have influence.

Gaining influence in your organization can empower your – and your team’s – development. It can also make you feel respected, appreciated, and acknowledged, which will boost your performance and career growth as a result.

While a managerial title might be one of the most obvious sources of authority, it isn’t the only place influence comes from. There are many sources of authority you can leverage to inspire others to follow your lead, including:

  • Your expertise.
  • Your relationships.
  • Your organizational understanding.

Relational skills such as deep listening, effective assertion, and self-awareness are all tools you can use in order to influence the system around you in an authentic way. In the EMERGE program, you will explore the ways in which you can influence your organization using the skills you have developed during the six-week journey. 

6. Reframing

We won’t solve problems with the same kind of thinking that created them.

Innovation happens when you challenge conventional wisdom, allowing you to see things from a different perspective. Research shows that changing your mind is critical for growth. It’s called neural plasticity; each time we learn something new, the brain’s neural pathways are changed to accommodate the new information.

In many organizations, we are often told, “This is how we do it here.” But creative leadership is about unearthing assumptions and getting comfortable with contradiction, paradox, and ambiguity to discover new possibilities. As the great Nelson Mandela once said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

In the EMERGE program, we introduce participants to a unique reframing tool, which will help them reframe their limiting beliefs in order to generate new ideas and perspectives.


To develop your leadership and management skills, join the THNK EMERGE: Lead With Courage program.