What are leadership competencies? This is one of the most common questions and points of confusion for those beginning to study and participate in leadership development? The words "leadership competencies" can seem complicated, confusing, and intimidating to try and understand. Spend a little time in leadership development and you are sure to hear someone talk about leadership competencies, so you better know what leadership competencies are.
In its most simple form, think of a leadership competency as anything a leader is, knows, or does. When we ask “what are leadership competencies” we are really asking is “what do leaders need to know, do, and be.” Let’s elaborate a little bit more.
The word “competency” is formally defined as “an ability to do something, especially measured against a standard (per the Encarta dictionary).” Any of these examples are things a leader could be required to know, do, or be, and are therefore considered to be leadership competencies: setting strategy, motivating people, organizing work, creating a vision, giving feedback, delivering results, being honest, practicing patience, etc. All of these are things that leaders are expected to know, be, or do well.
The word “competencies” has many synonyms that can help us further understand in more detail what we mean when we ask the question “what are leadership competencies?” Consider these words in place of the word competencies: leadership skills, leadership abilities, leadership qualities, leadership characteristics, and leadership aptitudes. All of these synonyms point to things that leaders are expected to know, be, or do, and are just another way to describe what leadership competencies are.
Now, that is the meaning of what leadership competencies are, but let's get more practical as to how they are used and why they are so important. Leadership competencies are the foundation building block to defining leadership, and building successful leadership development programs. Can you imagine driving across the country without a map. How far would you get? How much longer would it take? How frustrating would it be? Organizations create leadership competencies to give their leaders a map of what it means in their organization to be a good leader, and how to get there. By defining what their most important leadership competencies are, they are defining the expectation of what it means to be a leader in their organization.
In terms of their real application, notice in the dictionary definition the reference to a “standard that can be measured.” A key characteristic of leadership competencies is that they have been descriptively written in such a way that they create a shared standard by which all leaders can be assessed and measured. Because they are a standard, and can be applied to anyone, a leadership competency becomes measurable across an entire organization, not just a select few. Any good leadership competency will have some sort of measurement system that allows leaders to assess themselves against it.
Organizations have two options when creating leadership competencies. The first option is to answer the question "what are our leadership competencies" from scratch. This involves a very labor intensive effort that can span many months. The process can include interviews, discussions, meetings, and draft after draft of what leadership competencies matter most to the organization. After getting agreement on a set list, then the work begins to write them and describe them in actionable ways that others can understand and apply.
The second option is for an organization to purchase content that has already been created, and then customize it or brand it to make it their own. Think of this approach like buying pizza dough that is already made, allowing you the fun of just putting on the toppings and cooking it, instead of having to make your own pizza dough from scratch.
Time after time it has been proven that this second approach will save organizations time and money, allowing them to get results faster for their investment in leadership development. This is the purpose of The Definitive Leadership Competencies Guide. The Guide includes a set of leadership competencies with descriptions and ways to measure them that any organization can take, customize, and use as a foundation to their own leadership development program.
You can see our leadership competencies list, explore our leadership competencies examples, learn about leadership competencies assessments and building a leadership competencies model, and learn more about how The Definitive Leadership Competencies Guide can help you further answer the question "what are leadership competencies" on this site. If you have more questions in regards to what are leadership competencies you can also contact us and we'd be happy to share.