Leadership competencies are a core foundation to leadership development One of the most long-standing conversations in the field of leadership development is the value of leadership competencies. Do leadership competencies provide value? There are many reasons that new and old voices will proclaim leadership competencies are ineffective, or a thing of the past. We want to present what we consider to be the top reason for why we need to continue to rely on leadership competencies, why leadership competencies are important, and why they will continue to be the backbone for any successful leadership development effort. We will also try and refute what seems to be the number one reason people turn their back on leadership competencies as a viable tool in leadership development.
THE TOP ARGUMENT FOR LEADERSHIP COMPETENCIES
Have you ever tried getting somewhere you have never been without knowing how to get there? How did it go? Can you imagine having someone tell you they need you to get in the car and travel somewhere, while refusing to tell you where they want you to travel to or how to get there? Many would look upon this scenario and quickly agree it is inconceivable, maybe even irresponsible, and certainly unobtainable. Without knowing where to go, or how to get there, a a certain destination can never be reached.
If we understand that simple principle, then it should be easy to apply this analogy to leadership competencies to help us understand why leadership competencies are important. Leadership competencies are the map of leadership that is used to show, teach, and explain a leadership destination to those trying to achieve leadership growth. Without leadership competencies, how do leaders know where they need to go? How do they know what is expected? How do they know what it looks like to be great? The answer is they can’t. As soon as you take away leadership competencies from a leadership development program you have taken away its cornerstone. You are effectively telling someone to go somewhere without specifying where or giving directions for how to get there.
At its most basic level leadership competencies are simply statements of what is expected of a leader. Many will vocally speak out against leadership competencies, and then fill their leadership classes with definitions of what they want their leaders to be. An apple by any other name is still an apple, and any definition of a leadership destination is still a leadership competency, whether it is called it directly or not.
In the world of leadership development, you have to have some way of describing to others what you want them to be, how you want them to act, or how you want them to think etc. Any effort to answers those questions produces leadership competencies, which is why leadership competencies are here to stay and will continue to be relied upon as the backbone of any effective leadership development effort. Without answering those questions, and creating leadership competencies, you can’t develop a leader into anything.
REFUTING THE TOP ARGUMENT AGAINST LEADERSHIP COMPETENCIES
If leadership competencies are so basic and foundational, then why do people argue against them? The most common argument against leadership competencies is that they just don’t work. Continuing our use of analogies, this is like a young child entering into a car and closing the door, then declaring the car doesn't work because it doesn’t turn itself on and begin driving him or her around. The fact the car does not work is not a problem with the car, but a user problem.
The same is true for the use of leadership competencies in leadership development programs. When they don’t work it is not a problem with leadership competencies, it is a user problem. Many will say that leadership competencies are too complicated for application in their organizations, when in fact the problem is a user error in not making them simple. Some will say that leadership competencies are not practical for use by busy line managers because they are too cumbersome, when the real problem is a user error in not making them easily applicable.
If you were to examine every scenario in which leadership competencies didn't work you will assuredly find a user problem, a user being defined as those that designed and created the leadership competencies for use in the organization.
The most consistent root cause for leadership competencies user error is ignoring the principle to not "look beyond the mark." Management asks for simple leadership solutions and far too often HR people or leadership development people get carried away with all the bells and whistles. What begins as a simple need for leadership competencies turns into discussions of multiple dimensions, five-level matrices, PhD level analytics and other tools that take the simple idea of leadership competencies and turn them upside down with complexity. In these instances the problem isn't in leadership competencies, but in their users.
You can’t blame a car for not working when the problem is the driver who doesn’t know how to drive it, and you can’t blame leadership competencies when you have people who don’t know how to design and implement them. When created and implemented correctly, like the correct use of a vehicle, leadership competencies will take any organization and their individual people on a very successful leadership growth journey.