21st Century Skills

Their Place in Leadership Development


Recently, our Canadian partner has asked the following interesting question: Are the leadership skills measured and tested by the global award-winning, serious game simulation, called FLIGBY, “21st-century skills”? My first thought was that since the “people analytics” architecture of FLIGBY was made during 2008 and 2012, its competency-based development does embody the DNA of the 21st century thinking about leadership. However, upon reflection, I concluded that we should try to offer a more professional answer as well.

Since before the question I have not yet come across the phrase, “21st century skills”, I searched what that concept actually means. I found that the 21st-century adjective refers to “those skills and competencies that are indispensable in the new network society”. Those skills include “communication”, “collaboration”, “teamwork”, “creativity”, “innovation”, “critical thinking”, and the skills and competencies of problem-solving. Much of the thinking on “21st-century skills” has focusing on information literacy, ICT (information and communication technology) literacy and media literacy. The newer approaches to what it means to possess “21st-century skills” highlight the competencies needed for living a healthy and productive life, and include concepts such as “flexibility”, “adaptability”, “initiative”, “self-discipline”, “productivity”, “leadership”, and “responsibility”.

Based on the above, here is a summary of 16 skills and characteristics – listed in the context of what students should be taught and be learning – that can be identified as 21st-century competencies:

So now we can return to the question: Are FLIGBY’s 29 skills “21st-century skills”? In view of the above text and illustration, I conclude the followings:

  • 21st-century skills support 21st-century organizations – In recent years it has become customary to describe the 21st-century environment in which organizations must function as the “VUCA World”. VUCA is an abbreviation of four adjectives that are said to characterize our environment: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. In my view, 21st-century leadership skills are those that support meeting the strategic and organizational challenges of the VUCA world. FLIGBY’s 29 skills were basically defined on the basis of the research that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi conducted for and described in his Good Business book. In the interview book summing up the results of the research conducted with such key leaders as Apple, Body Shop, Microsoft, Novo Nordisk) talked about the appropriate organizational logic. We defined the competencies tested in the Simulation by a careful analysis of the research results reported in Good Business. (That is, we reviewed carefully the interviews conducted by Csikszentmihalyi and established, together with him, which particular skills were revealed by the “Flow-promoting” actions taken by those executives.)
  • 21st-century skills include those that prepare us, especially managers and leaders, to shoulder value-based responsibilities – As Michael Crooke, one of our most influential professional supporters worded: “Good business is about values”. From this aspect, FLIGBY is an explicit commitment to values such as honesty, “collaboration”, “environmental and social responsibility”, “fair competition”, “unconditional respect for learning” and the “initiations of constant changes”. The challenges of the Simulation are built around dilemmas that can be effectively managed with the application of those principles. Thus, the FLIGBY competencies play a crucial role strengthening the new ethical leadership practice.
  • 21st-century skills give new content to leadership – The new organizational and business models create new leader roles and anoint individuals to serve as leaders who are not at or near the top of the organizational hierarchy. The “Good Business” concept created by Prof. Csikszentmihalyi unequivocally forecasts the extension of the “leadership” term. Nowadays the leadership role is not defined by positions in a hierarchical structure. The skills of responsible decision-making, the realization of complex problems and harmonization of different stakeholders have become more important on all of the levels of value creation with the strengthening of networking and robots replacing simple mechanical skills. The 29 FLIGBY skills are those that help define the new leadership approach.

On the basis of the above, I think the “21st-century skills” and the skills measured and developed by the FLIGBY program are indisputably compatible. Thank you, Árpád (Ari) Abonyi for raising this question.