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The differences between 20th Century and 21st Century Leaders

Last Thursday evening, I delivered a speech that was a first-time for me. I had never started a talk at 11 pm!

The speech was delivered to Paris, France, for L’Orèal as part of its Luxury Lab – a conference for developing senior leaders.

One of the topics I covered was the difference between a 20th Century Leader and a 21st Century Leader.

I commenced the speech with a quote from Russel Ackoff, Professor Emeritus, Wharton Business School.

“Ages don’t stop and start. One fades in, while the other fades away.”

To understand the characteristics of a 20th Century Leader and how its underlying thinking persists into the 21st Century, it is essential to understand its evolution.

The Industrial Age commenced in Britain in 1760 when ‘machines’ were used to replace handheld tools. Early examples included looms and steam engines.

One-hundred-forty-eight years later, in 1908, Henry Ford hired Frederick Winslow Taylor to work with him to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Ford’s production line. Through their relationship, Taylor formed and released his Scientific Management Method theory.

The core principle of this theory is that humans are ‘part’ of the machine. From this thinking, concepts such as human resources, human capital, and human assets were created.

Resources, capital and assets can all be owned.

On 12 April 1861, the American Civil War commenced over the idea that humans could ‘own’ other humans, yet, the Scientific Management Method had that principle at its core and was adopted throughout the 20th Century.

It is little wonder that 20th Century Leadership is flawed when at its core is the belief that humans can “own” other humans.

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