Essential Leadership Skills for the Roaring ’20s

The roaring 1920s bring to mind economic prosperity, jazz music, new ways of dancing, expanded choices and the rejection of traditional moral values. We are entering a new roaring ’20s with many similarities that will necessarily redefine the way we view leadership. This decade requires leaders who can bring people together and create new visions. Here are three leadership skills essential to thrive in the new roaring 2020s.


The word discernment is often used in a religious or spiritual context, but in the context of leadership, I offer the word discernment to mean a higher level of good judgment. Discernment is about making distinctions between extremely similar concepts in order to promote understanding and superior decision-making. Distinctions help us to agree on concepts and use language in a way that creates alignment. For example, in my work, I make a distinction between responsibility and accountability — responsibility being a personal choice and more about individual ownership, and accountability being about metrics. Although the concepts are similar, these distinctions help managers communicate as to whether the issue is about measurement or the willingness of the employee.

Why discernment is important: Everyone has access to their own broadcast system though social media, therefore it’s easy to be fooled by fake news, false advertising and divisive issues. The discerning leader knows how to listen for responsible language and use critical thinking to resolve conflict. Discerning leaders persuade, influence and govern. In a world where it’s difficult to know truth from manipulation, discerning leaders create positive results rather than divisive drama.

How to become more discerning: Everyone has an opinion, and everyone has feelings. Discernment helps wise leaders’ separate fact from feeling. For example, name-calling is not a fact but an unfiltered angry emotional reaction. Ad hominem attacks focus on the person’s looks, beliefs or intelligence. A leader who resorts to ad hominem attacks show a lack of critical thinking and discernment, which reduces leadership credibility.

When you get triggered or see someone else reacting emotionally, silently ask yourself, “Is this fact, or is this feeling?”  Make a distinction between behaviors from words. Talk is cheap, but behavior is priceless.

Thought mastery

Our thoughts produce emotions and feelings, which produce more thought. Eventually, thought and feelings turn into actions, and actions repeated turn into habits.

The problem is when you believe every thought. Thoughts are a combination of early wiring, programming, environment, past experience and exposure to education and new experiences.

Why thought mastery is important: Early in my career, I provided some education for inmates at a federal prison. Some inmates were due for parole, and some were there for life.

I said to those who had a new future possibility, “The thinking that got you here is the thinking that will keep you here or brings you back.” The same is true of all of us. New outcomes require new thinking.

How to master your thoughts: The first step to thought mastery is to observe your mind. How do you talk to yourself? What kind of judgments do you hold about your employees and your colleagues?

Acknowledge the thought without totally buying into it. For example, if you think, “This conversation is going to be difficult,” say silently, “Thank you for sharing.”  Next, ask yourself, “What else could be true?” Often, you’ll find that results are related to the questions you ask. To master your thoughts, you have to become more curious and less certain.

Increase conflict capacity

Increasing conflict capacity is the ability to initiate or stay with a difficult conversation or challenging situation without resorting to avoidance or aggression.

Why increasing conflict capacity is important: Most conflicts will not resolve without some form of communication. The go-to reaction from those with low conflict capacity is either avoidance or aggression. Aggression is the catalyst for violence and avoidance the precursor for future lawsuits. Leaders who have the emotional stamina to withstand uncomfortable feelings can move mountains and build bridges.

How to increase conflict capacity: The way to expand your capacity is to slowly expose yourself to challenging situations and change your responses. Bit by bit, the rewiring occurs. Here are some ideas to try:

  • Ask for something even though you know the answer will be no. Repeat until you stop fearing rejection.
  • Ask a question when you disagree. Allow to someone disagree with you without trying to change their mind.

As you expand your capacity, notice how you experience painful emotions. Your neck might feel hot, or you may have a sick stomach. Your shoulders tense up. The more you notice and let it pass, the more you expand your competency, and the higher your awareness for when conflict arises.


In 100 years, another generation will think of the 2020s as a time of rapid disruptive change because of advancing technology, political conflict, social divide — and a time in history when people examined and redefined wise leadership.

Article originally posted on SmartBrief.

Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of “Stop Workplace Drama” (Wiley 2011), “No-Drama Leadership” (Bibliomotion 2015) and “7 Ways to Stop Drama in Your Healthcare Practice” (Greenbranch 2018) and an advanced practitioner of Narrative Coaching. Connect with Chism via LinkedInFacebook and Twitter and at