10 Reasons Leadership is Losing Ground in the 21st Century.

Ron McIntyre
7 min readApr 15, 2024

Leadership is evolving, and several factors are causing traditional leadership models to lose ground in the 21st century. Part of this is due to the lack of diversity in the executive suites in the US. This is true of every facet of the hall, as pointed out in a recent article by Zippia.com.

· For example, the average age of CEOs is 51 years old.

· There are currently 42,356 CEOs currently employed in the US.

· 76% of current CEOs are White.

Now, I am not here to bash the ages or ethnicity of CEOs but rather to examine the culture surrounding the role and why we need to become more open-minded to grow strategically. Unfortunately, several high-profile younger CEOs have been caught up in scandals and process mistakes, so it is not just older CEOs with issues.

Many issues are tied to customers’, employees’, competitors’, and stockholders’ often exaggerated or even unvoiced expectations of the role. They are as diverse as the number of insects in the world. Then you have the stereotype created by the new “Hero” CEO, produced by Jack Welch in the eighties, which implied it’s my way or no way, period.

In my 50+ years of management, I have worked for many CEOs. The number of creative, compassionate, transparent, and honest CEOs is meager compared to the show people and con artists who seem to crop up too often in business.

Ego and lack of self-control are the biggest hurdles for most senior executives because the title is the key to the armory to draw on weapons to deal with all stakeholders. They are often applauded for using them rather than finding creative solutions. For example, this can be seen in the number of apologies from CEOs in 2023 and 2024 for the layoffs, which they attributed to overhiring and overzealous perceptions of the market. Yes, it made the stockholders happy, but it did nothing for all the people who were part of the layoff did it.

I have felt for a long time that it is not the unhealthy nature of the individual leader, board, or employees that is the root cause but rather the failure to manage the complex problems they face daily. Typically, they want to play it safe and put a bandaid on the issue, hoping it will disappear. That does not work! Complexity is never going to disappear.

Here are ten areas I believe leadership is losing ground today:

  1. Digital Transformation: Rapid technological advancements have disrupted traditional business models and hierarchies. Leaders who cannot adapt to digital tools and platforms quickly become obsolete. I can’t tell you the number of leaders I have talked with who refuse to be creative when using technology. Too many hold on to old equipment or software and hope it will continue serving their needs without any new investment. The first sign of a problem is usually when the business begins imploding due to breakdowns and outdated software. Being proactive here is the best defense. However, many are unwilling to discuss it, hence the issue.
  2. Remote Work Culture: The rise of remote and hybrid work environments challenges leaders to manage teams effectively from a distance, requiring new skills and tools to keep employees engaged and productive. The standard CEO mantra is butts in seats allow me to know everyone is working. Wrong. The issue is that leaders and managers don’t want to take the time to be creative in designing job descriptions and processes that allow for self-monitoring and reward. In my experience, CEOs have minimal idea of what their staff do when sitting in their seats. They seldom ask their opinion of how well their job meets their needs, personally and professionally. They have no idea that busy work is nothing more than a placebo that makes them feel better, but their employees feel useless.

Take the time to commit to making it work for everyone; hybrid work can be done well. On the other hand, employees need to realize that not every job can have a remote component. Human interaction is vital in manufacturing, even in a highly robotic environment, so not everyone can work from home.

  1. Generational Shifts: As Baby Boomers begin to retire, Millennials and Gen Z will become the majority of the workforce. New values and expectations around work-life balance, corporate responsibility, and organizational culture challenge traditional leadership styles. Some of these shifts are good for the population, but others are not.

On a side note, I claim the title proudly regarding baby boomers. Still, I have no intention of retiring or stopping speaking up for excellent leadership and effective business growth. I will continue to talk about alternatives to greed and a disposable mentality regarding people and products.

Gen Zers are seen as self-driven and highly collaborative, whereas baby boomers are stereotypically more corporate-driven. Both can be very pragmatic and practical. However, both tend to be closed-minded and not very good at adapting.

On the other hand, millennials value individual motivation and challenge the status quo at every corner. They have grown up on technology and are usually open-minded and adaptive.

  1. Increased Transparency: Social media and instant communication demand higher levels of transparency and accountability from leaders. This shift can expose weaknesses and reduce the power of leadership positions traditionally shrouded in secrecy. While this is very apparent, we still see organizational leaders hiding behind Admins, PR, marketing, and HR so they don’t have to explain anything. I have always respected a leader who honestly has an open-door policy and is willing to discuss any topic on a stakeholder’s mind and provide an honest answer where needed.
  2. Diversity and Inclusion: There continues to be a growing emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion within organizations, but this emphasis is often lost in translation. Leaders who fail to incorporate these values find themselves out of touch with their teams and broader social expectations. Diversity and inclusion are the primary drivers of innovation because when you have open dialogue from various backgrounds, educations, and experiences, the well of new ideas is deep and rich. Leaders must recognize that they can’t know everything about their business and its future without openly discussing the future and alternatives.
  3. Globalization: The global nature of business requires leaders to manage across cultures, time zones, and differing regulatory environments, complicating traditional leadership approaches. I believed we were progressing on this front ten years ago, but now we are regressing and moving toward isolationism. This worries me more than anything because when we engage in closing borders and refusing to tap other labor sources, we miss a huge chunk of potential innovation. When we hide, we will pay the price for our isolation, which will be huge.
  4. Employee Autonomy: Today, employees expect more autonomy and input in decision-making than previously. They want to be listened to and take ownership of their jobs. Leaders with top-down management styles may struggle to motivate and retain talent. A pure hierarchy is sometimes necessary, usually in a significant crisis or disaster. Someone must say the buck stops here, makes the hard decisions, and demands momentum to move forward.

However, in the complex problems leaders face daily, the more collaborative, the faster things will be accomplished with fewer errors.

  1. Mental Health Awareness: There’s an increasing awareness of mental health in the workplace. Leaders must now consider the well-being of their employees as a priority, necessitating a more empathetic and supportive leadership approach. Unfortunately, too many leaders pay this lip service rather than genuinely trying to deal with the issues. Many worry about the liability rather than the well-being. Science, philosophy, and religion continue to struggle with defining well-being and support mechanisms that are documented and helpful, so leaders are struggling. The key is learning to be open-minded and compassionate and then providing a solid example to the stakeholders.
  2. Environmental Concerns: Sustainability is one of the topics we continue to debate. However, leaders are expected to drive environmentally friendly practices and innovations, aligning company objectives with ecological considerations. While this is true, all stakeholders still struggle with the need to sacrifice to make an impact that will change the future. We want to see change, but the change must not upset my comfort zone. Until we are willing to come together to resolve these issues and commit to changing our lifestyle, this will be a struggle for everyone, not just leadership.
  3. Rapid Pace of Change: The velocity of change in markets and technologies outpaces traditional decision-making processes, requiring leaders to be more agile and forward-thinking. Leaders find it more difficult to be agile and open-minded because many are locked into their comfort zones. They have crafted golden parachutes for the time when they feel threatened and have to exit, but with it, they will take all their experience and knowledge with them. I am a great fan of building succession opportunities for your staff, so when you do get tired, several people can take your job and move forward rather than trying to develop a whole new culture.

These challenges require reevaluating leadership strategies and may demand new skills and approaches to remain effective in today’s dynamic world. There needs to be a new emphasis on the value of people and how we can merge technology and humans to build a better company. When we discuss humans as our best asset, we need to change that from a disposable asset to an intangible asset.

Leaders need to be more proactive in dealing with their company’s complex problems and involve stakeholders in meeting the demands and skills it takes to resolve them. This is essential. At the same time, stakeholders need to help restore mutual respect for every role in the company and the need for evolving role changes necessary for sustainable growth.

Instead of layoffs, leaders must consider reassignments, retooling, and reskilling so the best talents can remain with the company. Think about career planning for your people. Consider it an investment in the future of the company.

The only caveat with this thinking is that the leaders are short-sighted, and all they want to do is spin off the assets for a large payout and jump ship. In this case, the leaders must bear the burden of the losses along the way, and quite honestly, they are opportunists and not leaders.



Ron McIntyre

Ron McIntyre is a Leadership Anthropologist, Author, and Consultant, who, in semi-retirement, is looking to help people who really want to make a difference.