Rethinking Leadership: 7 Critical Skills Leaders Need in a World of Change

By Art Petty
February 17, 2017

Take a few moments and make a list of everything that jumps to mind about the behaviors of effective leaders.


Take a few moments and make a list of everything that jumps to mind about the behaviors of effective leaders. Think back to training programs you’ve attended, books you’ve read or the nearly infinite number of articles you’ve encountered that all sound something like: X Tips to Become the World’s Greatest Leader.


Lock in those thoughts for a moment. Take notes.

Got those locked in your gray matter or scribbled down in front of you? Now review those behaviors.

I’ve run this exercise live in many workshops, and I suspect your results are similar. Terms that speak to respect, feedback, coaching, direction-setting, words/actions matching, and trust and credibility make up the bulk of the lists. Something called “authenticity” shows up as well, although the definition is just a bit squishy. Most of these are important, timeless leadership behaviors and attributes, and we all aspire to display them in our own endeavors.

However, the world is changing faster today than at any other point in civilization. And while these behaviors are inviolable, they aren’t enough when it comes to navigating change and uncertainty at scale. Along with these tried-and-true behaviors, all of us must cultivate and master a new set of survival skills as leaders. Our companies, teams and careers depend upon it.

Leadership Lessons from Video Gamers

Gamers learn to master new tools and tricks through experimentation and repetition. In massive online role-playing games, teams assemble spontaneously to combat adversaries and threats. Individuals assume roles as leaders or contributors, depending upon the situation and their skills. They might die a few times on the way to success, but they work hard to master new skills and acquire and learn how to use new tools on the fly.

Welcome to the new world of leadership—a perpetual exercise in leveling-up skills in preparation for a sudden threat or emerging new opportunity. As an executive coach, I’ve observed individuals in a variety of roles who have cracked the code for leading and succeeding in this environment. They are adept at helping groups succeed at navigating change to seize opportunities or fight off unanticipated adversaries. And while
many of these individuals lack the heft of titles that suggest leader, they are leading by
their actions. To a person, these professionals display what I describe as the seven level-up skills.

Success as a leader (and as a contributor) in this era of change requires a new performance gear for all of us. The individuals poised to survive, thrive and lead in this world are those who cultivate and apply these seven skills.

The Seven Level-Up Skills

1. Rewire—Every cell in your body screams fight or flight in the face of unanticipated change. We have to learn to ignore those instincts and seize the opportunity inherent in an unanticipated change in our company, industry or job. Leaders in this era frame change as opportunity, not obstacle, and they infect their teams with this attitude.

2. Relearn—Most companies look at the world through the lens of their industry and history. Tomorrow’s leaders must help their teams and companies see the world more broadly, spot trends and environmental changes that foreshadow threats or opportunities, and then move their teams into action.

3. Retry—Tomorrow’s leaders must attack their challenges in the spirit and format of the scientific method. Instead of giving hollow lip service to experimentation, they must teach their teams to take risks and leverage failures in pursuit of future successes.

4. Rethink—One core behavior for leading in this new world is to adopt the approaches of modern warriors who are challenged to build rapid trust in life-or-death settings with perfect strangers. The term “caring” will be added to the lexicon of essential leadership behaviors.

5. Recommit—Guiding teams to high performance accelerates your career and saves your organization. Tomorrow’s leaders must be adept at quickly bringing groups to a level of high performance, regardless of circumstances.

6. Reorient—People with the political power decide what gets done and who does it. Tomorrow’s leaders must be students of power and politics, striving to cultivate and project power for the purpose of generating positive change and innovation.

7. Rebrand—A powerful personal brand has never been more important, yet many people fail to understand how others see them. Effective leaders will not only tune in to how people perceive them, they will deliberately manage their brand personas to grow power and strengthen their effectiveness. These skills are at the core for all of us when it comes to developing as leaders. The hard work of learning and mastering these skills defines the level-up challenge in front of us. Consider the very real case of Amy (name has been changed). As a senior product manager, she changed the fate of her organization by applying the level-up skills. I suspect most product managers will recognize this situation.

The Case of Amy

Amy was worried about a problem that no one else seemed to see. Her team was responsible for identifying new product and service ideas and bringing them to life. In her assessment, there was nothing new on what was a jam-packed product roadmap. The approved projects were either extensions of existing product-line offerings or crafty repackaging initiatives for older products that the company wanted to move down-market to new price-sensitive audiences. While every item on the roadmap had been vetted and approved by executives and enthusiastically endorsed by the customer council, it bothered her that the totality of the company’s development efforts concentrated on tuning and tweaking ideas from the past. She intended to solve this problem.

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About the Authors

  • Art Petty

    Art Petty is a leader, strategist, and team-builder with more than 22 years of experience directing the growth, global expansion, and rise to market leadership of global organizations in technology, services, and manufacturing. Art is the founder and principal at Strategy & Management-Innovations, LLC, a leadership development and strategy consulting practice, as well as the co-author of the 2007 book, Practical Lessons in Leadership—A Guidebook for Aspiring and Experienced Leaders.

    Art writes the popular management blog, Management Excellence at and serves as an adjunct faculty member teaching management, quality, and project management in the MBA program at DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business. Contact Art at

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