Developing leadership competencies to fit organizational goals and vision is one of the chief determinants of a business's success.

Good leadership ensures employee retention, future-proofing businesses against the mighty cost of talent loss. At the same time, it also fosters innovation and cultivates a productive and positive company culture.

Unfortunately, firms still struggle with creating strong leadership that permeates all levels. 77% of companies report leadership gaps, and only 5% implement development initiatives at all levels. Furthermore, the steady exit of Baby Boomers from the workforce is creating an even greater need for effective leadership training for the new generations.

This article will discuss some commonly agreed-upon leadership competencies, along with an overview of leadership training.

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Defining Leadership Competencies

According to Hollenbeck, et al. (2006), leadership competencies are an effective leader’s knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA). They are factors that make leadership exceptional in a given context.

Speaking of context, leadership competencies are not static. Instead, the right mix often varies depending on an organization’s developmental goals and mission. Additionally, competency requirements also change based on the leader’s post. For instance, the desired skill set for a team manager and a c-level executive will be very different.

Thus, each company’s HR department chalks up a leadership competency model – a customized list of desired leadership KSAs. Leaders are then appointed and trained based on the specified competencies.

Nonetheless, scholars have tried to narrow down the common essentials across organizations. Unsurprisingly, some competencies are more universal than others. Even so, leadership competencies can never be a one-size-fits-all affair.

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Key Leadership Competencies

We can split leadership competencies into three domains:

  • Competencies required for leading the organization
  • Competencies needed for leading others
  • Competencies required for leading the self

Each leader possesses a mixture of these in varying combinations and has personal strengths and weaknesses in all three domains. Let us dive deeper into some of the most important KSAs.

Leading the Organization

The competencies that constitute organizational leadership are:

  • Management Skills – This competency includes technical, conceptual, diagnostic, and interpersonal skills. A competent leader will be proficient in one or more of these areas.
  • Problem Solving and Decision Making – Leaders also need to be comfortable with thinking on their toes when faced with problems and dilemmas. This encompasses analyzing situations calmly, mobilizing resources and teams, and taking major calls in high-stakes situations.
  • Strategic Planning – Competent leaders have the business acumen to plan ahead, anticipate changes, and adjust business strategies to leverage opportunities.
  • Specific Business Skills – Having skills central to running businesses are another leadership competency seen across the board. These skills could include expertise in marketing, sales, project management, negotiations, etc.
  • Change Management – Lastly, influential leaders make organizational transitions seamless and remain at the forefront of any such shifts. Managing change well requires a combination of skills mentioned above and more.

Leading Others

Getting through to large groups of people and convincing them to drive change is a challenging task. Without the ability to connect with and influence others, all other leadership KSAs fall a little flat. Some common competencies associated with leading others are:

  • Effective Communication SkillsA virtual or face-to-face office is a social environment, like any other shared human space. Thus, having good communication skills is paramount and takes precedence over many other leadership competencies. Communication skills do not only include the ability to talk to others. They also involve listening and communicating via text and electronic mediums.
  • Developing Others – Developing the skills of the people one is managing leads to increased productivity in the long run. Some examples are assessing training needs, respecting and encouraging contributions, and empowering the team. Being invested in one’s subordinates’ development also promotes trust and relationship building.
  • Respecting Diversity and Promoting Inclusivity – Diversity and inclusion have long proven to drive innovation and growth. Companies with diverse workforces and inclusive policies have consistently risen above others. Being inclusive also means a leader exercises basic human respect and values the dignity of those they work with. Employees who feel included and safe at their workplace stay longer and perform better.
  • Conflict Management – On the other end of the inclusivity spectrum lies conflict. Conflicts do not necessarily have to be negative and are normal when many actors are at play. However, effective resolution and de-escalation of such situations are vital to prevent serious repercussions. Thus, conflict management is a leadership competency that should not be ignored.
  • Team Management – Leaders work with multiple teams on the regular. Efficient team management means better output. In today’s digital era, managing on-site teams is not enough. The ability to supervise remote teams has become just as important but is significantly more challenging.

Leading Oneself

Lastly, self-discipline and the ability to steer one’s behavior in the desired direction are leadership competencies leaders cannot overlook.

Some KSAs that fall under this domain are:

  • Self-awareness – Good leaders accurately appraise their strengths and weaknesses. This awareness, in turn, allows them to enhance their overall skill set in all three domains.
  • Integrity – Modern employees are more proactive than ever at standing up against exploitation, double standards, and unfair treatment from superiors. Thus, leaders must be honest, value-driven, and follow a strict code of personal and professional ethics to gain their employees’ trust and respect.
  • Lifelong Learning – With how rapidly the market changes now, a habit of learning is an essential leadership competency to possess. Staying up-to-date keeps leaders relevant and makes moving up the ladder easier if that is what they want. Additionally, a knowledgeable leader amplifies a company’s market relevance and creates a learning culture by passing on their knowledge to employees and other leaders.

Corporate Training for Leadership Competencies

Despite the importance of competent leadership, the training scenario is not up to par yet.

According to an ATD survey, 77% of companies feel a gap in their leadership. 47% even expect leadership skills to be lacking in the future. ATD reports that the biggest gaps are in communication, managerial skills, and critical thinking. This is cause for concern as they constitute core leadership competencies.

This neglect opposes evidence that suggests that leadership training can improve learning capacity by 25% and performance by 20%. However, teaching theory is not enough. Building leadership competencies requires practical knowledge and ample opportunities to rehearse and apply skills (Lacarenza, et al., 2017).

Corporate training has a lot to offer, including programs that incorporate real-world competence building. Tools like simulations, game-based learning, case studies, group projects, synchronous training, etc., can all be utilized to deliver potent leadership training to employees and leaders alike.

Additionally, modules can also incorporate “developmental experiences” in their curriculums. This term comes from a review by McCauley (2008), an eminent leadership development scholar. According to her review, five major developmental events affect managers’ leadership competencies:

  • Challenging assignments
  • Interaction and feedback from other people
  • Hardships
  • Coursework
  • Personal life experiences

Thus, tapping into these rich and readily available resources can push leadership training in the right direction.

Conclusion

Leadership competencies are core business assets, including hard and soft skills. While organizations actively invest in training their leaders, there is still a gap. E-learning offers a multitude of tools and options that L&D departments can incorporate into their leadership training programs. Additionally, there is a wealth of literature out there waiting to be used.

Infographics

Core Leadership Competencies That Make a Strong Business

Core Leadership Competencies That Make a Strong Business

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are leadership competencies?

According to Hollenbeck, et al. (2006), leadership competencies are an effective leader’s knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA). They are factors that make leadership exceptional in a given context.

What are the three domains of leadership competencies?

The three domains of leadership competencies are:

  • Competencies required for leading the organization
  • Competencies needed for leading others
  • Competencies required for leading the self

How many leadership competencies are there?

It is difficult to quantify leadership competencies as they are not static. Instead, the right mix often varies depending on an organization’s developmental goals and mission. Additionally, competency requirements also change based on the leader’s post. For instance, the desired skill set for a team manager and a c-level executive will be very different.

How to develop leadership competencies?

Corporate training has a lot to offer, including programs that incorporate real-world competence building. Tools like simulations, game-based learning, case studies, group projects, synchronous training, etc., can all be utilized to deliver potent leadership training to employees and leaders alike. Additionally, modules can also incorporate “developmental experiences” in their curriculums. This term comes from a review by McCauley (2008), an eminent leadership development scholar.

References

Mccauley, Cynthia. (2008). Leader Development: A Review of Research.

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