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Blog: Successful Leadership in the 21st Century

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Key leadership of any company exerts huge amounts of influence over their organizations. This may seem like a simple concept, however, you can correlate both the most fruitful of successes and the most dramatic of failures to those at the helm. It is remarkable that an individual has the power to dictate the destiny of a massive company. Consider how Uber stumbled after missteps by leadership were revealed in 2017, or the complications Tesla faces following CEO Elon Musk’s volatile public presence. However, there are numerous examples of visionary leaders that have successfully and effectively grown and managed their companies as reflections of their individual philosophies and aspirations. Take Jeff Bezos as an example, growing an online bookstore into a multi-billion dollar global success.

Interestingly, there is no gene that codes for “leader.” There isn’t even a consistent set of leadership attributes or traits. Social psychology research has shown that leadership is an aspect of group processes rather than individuals. An individual may possess a list of qualities generally associated with leaders, but without followers or a group to lead, those qualities don’t make a leader. Leadership, as defined by social psychology research, is “the process of influencing others in a manner that enhances their contribution to the realization of group goals” (Haslam, Reicher, & Platow, 2011).

The 21st century holds leaders accountable for more than just profits and managing their employees. Increased transparency of companies asks greater corporate and social responsibility of key figures by stakeholders, shareholders, and the general public. Strategic leadership, or the decision-making and interpersonal processes required for the effective management of a company, looks more different today than it ever has before.

The UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and Berkeley Executive Education (BEE) understand this new call to action for successful leaders. Our faculty utilize the latest research and unparalleled industry experience to empower the business leaders of tomorrow. Professors like Maura O’Neill, Jennifer Chatman, and Sameer Srivastava of the Berkeley Executive Leadership program champion principles of ethical leadership. Dr. Maura O’Neill, Distinguished Teaching Fellow and winner of the Earl F. Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching, frequently teaches principles of inspiring leadership. She shares in an interview with BEE that one should set the bar exceptionally (but not impossibly) high for yourself and your team, and believe that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things-- because they are. Professor O’Neill knows that anyone can become a great leader, as long as they listen, learn, and always stay humble.

While the jury’s still out on the inborn characteristics of leaders, Dr. Jennifer Chatman has identified three attributes that many successful leaders exhibit. First, effective leaders take a diagnostic approach to situations. They have acute situational awareness and understand when and how to add value. Second, they engage a broad set of behavioral styles, depending on the situation. They can react differently and appropriately, as the situation requires. Finally, leaders are committed to improvement. They acknowledge that success is a lifelong process and requires constant attention and effort.

Dr. Dacher Keltner, psychologist and BEE faculty, challenges the prototypical Machiavellian leadership model. Keltner instead argues that true power arises from kindness, altruism, and social intelligence. His book The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence examines the phenomenon that power is infectious and all-consuming, corrupting our better, more empathetic instincts for others. Oftentimes, those in power abuse their positions and lose sight of ethics and other people's interests," Keltner says. By being aware of power and its influences, Keltner says, we can transform it into a force for good.

Written by:
Corinne McGinley, Berkeley Executive Education Sales & Marketing Intern, UC Berkeley Undergraduate Student


Berkeley Executive Education offers professional educational programs for leaders looking to redefine the future of business. Learn more from Maura O’Neill, Jennifer Chatman, and Dacher Keltner in our Berkeley Executive Leadership program, Women’s Executive Leadership program, and others.

Benderev, Chris, et al. “The Perils of Power.” NPR, NPR, 6 Sept. 2016,

“Why Leaders Must Give Away Power in Order to Keep Influence.” Fortune, Fortune,

“An Interview with Professor Maura O'Neill on Inspiring Leadership.” The Top 3 Attributes of Successful Leaders,

“The Top 3 Attributes of Successful Leaders.” The Top 3 Attributes of Successful Leaders,

Bert Cannella, Sydney Finkelstein, Donald C. Hambrick. “Strategic Leadership: Theory and Research on Executives, Top Management Teams, and Boards.” 2005.

Jr., Bill Murphy, and Bill Murphy Jr. “How Rough Was Uber's 2017? Let Us Count the Ways.”, Inc., 20 Dec. 2017,….

“Opinion | Elon Musk's Twitter Meltdowns Are Just the Beginning.”, NBCUniversal News Group,….

“What Makes Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Such a Visionary Leader.” Fortune, Fortune,

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