10 leadership competencies your organization doesn’t tell you about


There are some secret reasons for success – or failure – that nobody tells you about. You might not recognize their absence in yourself until it’s too late. If you’re lucky, an honest manager, colleague or friend might tell you about them.

I rarely see these “secret” competencies listed as required competencies for leadership in organizations, but trust me; you need to work on them.

I’ve compiled a partial list of foundational behaviors I’ve heard over the years that leaders need to improve, discovered through interviewing their stakeholders. Before you write them off as not applicable to you, consider that most of these people are high potentials and rated highly on their organization’s leadership competencies. Here they are:

Healthy relationships: A common mistake that leaders make is to hole up in their office and neglect the relationships that will help them to be successful. You have plenty of other things to do, but this is the most important. Make time in your schedule to make the connections that will be mutually beneficial.

Listening: You must go beyond hearing to developing the kind of listening that goes deeper. This kind of listening includes watching body language and observing emotions. If you don’t listen in this way you’ll miss plenty of opportunities to learn and connect to others.

Silence: A cousin to listening, leaders who exhibit strategic silence know when to stay still. They understand the impact of words that can hurt, anger, or create fear. They know that when they say too much, others stop speaking and creativity and inclusion are a lost cause.

Appropriate pace: It’s a difficult thing to match the pace of others. I find some leaders are so driven that they outpace those who follow, leaving them in the dust, confused and dazed. Other leaders may be too slow to make decisions and take action, and we all know what happens if this becomes a repeated pattern.

Patience: Many leaders are intolerant of others who might do things differently or at a pace the leader finds unacceptable. Action oriented leaders may have a tendency to jump to conclusions before things are thought through. The lack of patience can manifest itself as anger or decisions that aren’t fully thought through.

Calm: Remaining calm is a great asset that can be lacking in many leaders in our high pressure, high stress organizations. Leaders who are not calm may show anxiety and an inability to remain still. They might be excitable at the moments when an organization needs calm, spreading anxiety.

Inclusive: There are very few places where a lone wolf leader can be effective. Decisions are complex, and it takes a village of smart people to help make them. Leaders who aren’t inclusive may find that their organizations lack creativity. The people who are most talented may be taking their brilliance elsewhere.

Respect: A deep respect for all people in the organization is the hallmark of a great and enduring leader. Everyone is treated as someone who matters. Dropping the “F” bomb, threatening people’s jobs, or even just ignoring them are quick roads to unemployment line.

Professional: A leader who is professional is one who dresses appropriately, walks the talk, and is loyal to their organization. Professional leaders don’t complain to others about decisions made in the C-suite. Despite how they might feel about certain company guidelines, rules, or bureaucracies, they do what needs to be done.

Reflective: Leaders who spend their days reacting are heading for trouble. Most leaders get more responsibility by taking decisive action, but unless they take some time to reflect on past and future successes and failures they’ll eventually run into trouble. Setting aside thinking time is imperative for success.

Your company’s leadership competencies are great. But they aren’t enough for you to sustain your leadership. What additional secret competencies do you think are important?

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

7 comments on “10 leadership competencies your organization doesn’t tell you about

  1. I recently resigned from a nonprofit run by a person who violated practically every thing on this great list. Needless to say, staff turnover at this organization is very high and financials are 5 figures in the red every month. Worst position with worst leadership I have ever encountered. Any organization is only as healthy as its head.

  2. Sara, I’m sorry to hear about your experience. I’m sure you learned a lot about what not to do? I especially appreciate the implied linkage between the Executive Director’s behavior and poor financials. Don’t know if we can draw a direct connection, but I certainly suspect there is one!

  3. Dear Mary Jo,
    A very interesting overview of some fundamental leadership competencies. Unfortunately, many leaders do see any relationship between their lack leadership competencies and staff turnover or financial performance.

  4. Self-care is important — physical, mental, spiritual. Like oxygen masks on a plane, leaders need to take care of themselves first, so they are able to lead and help others. Lack of self-care affects performance in other leadership competences.

  5. As a corollary for the “Respect” competency-I would add ’empathy’. I belong to the school of thought which has taught me to try and remember names,birthdays of the spouse and kids of my colleagues,to enquire about their education,health etc. I dread the MNC culture which says-I pay you to come and work and deliver- what happens afterwards is not of my concern . Sorry if I am sounding harsh or antagonistic.
    The list of competencies is useful.

  6. Nice addition Suresh. I agree and have written about the importance of empathy for leaders. As a corollary, I also believe there are times when compassion is important.

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