Ideal leaders possess more than just competencies


Many organizations have something they call “leadership competencies” that are a set of key behaviors for their leaders. These are traits that organizational leaders are expected to aspire to (and take on) in the way they lead. These competencies may include such things as dealing with ambiguity, being agile, managing conflict or promoting teamwork. They’re important abilities and ones that any good leader would like to express.

However, each individual leader embodies the competencies in their own way. There are foundations that are “behind the scenes” of every great leader that define and shape the way they lead in a way that is less tangible than a set of leadership competencies. Just as a great actor expresses her lines through the filter of who she is, a great leader expresses her competencies through the filter of what makes her unique. I’m pretty sure that the Iron Lady, played in the key role by Meryl Streep, would have been a very different viewing experience if Tina Fey had played the lead.

The best leaders are human, expressing important leadership competencies through traits that may not be as obvious as the behaviors that are observed, but are important nonetheless. If you strive to be an ideal leader, be sure you understand and express yourself through your:

Values: You may or may not be aware of your values – those things that are important (“of value”) to you. Whether your values are explicitly defined or hidden to you, they will be expressed in your behavior nonetheless. I encourage you to spend some time discovering and thinking about your values so that you can be more intentional about bringing them out and behaving in congruence with them. Start by considering what’s most important to you. If you say it’s your family, then there will be certain things you will do to express that family value and certain things you will not do. For instance, if you travel extensively for work, what does it mean to your family value if you are away from them a lot?

Wisdom: Wisdom goes beyond knowledge. It includes a deep understanding of human behavior and experiences that are knit together into the fabric of intuition to help you to do what is right and to balance your head and your heart. Wisdom comes from being curious and without judgment to those people and situations that are different from what you are used to. You build wisdom by being present to what you see, hear and do, and then taking the time to reflect on its meaning.

Beliefs: Your beliefs may be formed from interactions with your family, friends, co-workers and other things you’ve observed. Beliefs are assumptions about others and how you fit into the world. They are important to your ability to make decisions (often when the “facts” aren’t clear or are incomplete). You can make your beliefs more apparent by asking yourself such questions as “What is it that I believe about myself?”, “What is it that I believe about others?” and “What is it I believe about this situation?”. Understanding your personal beliefs will help you to question or embrace them when making judgments.

The ideal leader is more than a set of competencies. What are you doing to express your values, wisdom, and beliefs through your leadership?


Reprinted with permission from SmartBlog on Leadership

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.

6 comments on “Ideal leaders possess more than just competencies

  1. Nice article that focuses on the necessary intangibles of leadership. I believe demonstrating your values is a great way to earn employee respect and reinforce your leadership goals.

  2. Thanks Scott. I encourage my clients to actually voice their values – and ask followers to let them know when they aren’t following them. There’s something about that level of accountability that helps leaders to stay true to what they voice.

  3. This is a great point to call out. I definitely agree that great leaders go far beyond a set of competencies and they embody their leadership style through very much so through the items you list above. Not all leaders do this in my opinion but when you find the ones that do hold themselves accountable and really embody their own leadership style, it is so awesome to be around!

  4. Lacee, great point. When leaders fully take in their genuineness, it shows. That “being true to who you are” goes beyond the competencies and the things I’ve listed – there are some intangibles about personality, background, learning, and the unconscious that come into play too (among others).

  5. Love this piece Mary Jo. I was struck by this line in particular, “Wisdom comes from being curious and without judgment to those people and situations that are different from what you are used to.” I would have noted this as a key component of emotional intelligence, but linking it to wisdom gives it a whole new meaning.

  6. Thanks Sara – great observation that I hadn’t considered. Don’t you find that the most difficult wisdom to acquire is that gained by being around those that are very different from us? Or those who whom we’ve pre-judged? Curiosity with an open heart and mind can be so powerful, and indeed is a key component of emotional (and social) intelligence.

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