Developing Leadership Competencies: A Roadmap

Leadership competencies form the foundation for organizations in helping them achieve the business strategies. For example, an organization looking to drive innovation needs leaders that will cultivate creative thought and collaboration and take calculated risks. However, many organizations struggle with developing the leadership competencies they need to attract and retain good employees, lead change effectively, and grow their businesses profitably.

One of the most valuable investments that a business can make in its people is creating an effective approach to helping their leaders develop leadership competencies that will have the most positive impact on the success of their business. Short term, “check the box” approaches often don’t produce meaningful results. This must be a long-term commitment to developing leadership competencies. Businesses that make the development of leadership competencies part of the ongoing culture of the organization, rather than an occasional event, will realize the greatest benefits.

Leadership Competencies

There are numerous sources of research and endless lists on what the most important leadership competencies are. Important leadership competencies are centered around themes of what it takes to successfully lead an organization, lead others, and manage yourself. Some of the most common skills, practices, and behaviors often include: effective communication, developing others, setting a vision and strategy, ethics and integrity, building relationships, and managing change.

A Checklist for Developing Competencies

There is a proven approach to developing leadership competencies, which is described through the checklist, below. Don’t mistake the use of a checklist as an indication that this is a quick or easy process. Once again, it takes a long-term commitment to be successful. However, it is well worth it when it is done well:

✓ Develop a List of Leadership Competencies

At the most senior level of your organization, a decision needs to be made that developing a list of leadership competencies that are most important to the success of the business is critical to the future success of the organization. This is the beginning of a long-term commitment to making these competencies a center piece of defining and strengthening the culture of the firm.

✓ Work with Leaders Across the Organization to List of High-Priority Competencies

Create an inclusionary process of engaging leaders from across the organization in a discussion of what should be included in the list of competencies. Start this effort with a clear message from the top that this is an important effort that will hopefully have a long-term impact on the company. Create an environment of open debate of various ideas and approaches to identifying the highest priority competencies.

✓ Reflect on Discussions with a Group of Leaders Involved

Check in with a sample of leaders from across the firm following these discussions to get a sense for what they thought of the discussions, their level of engagement and how committed they are to supporting this effort.

✓ Establish Criteria to Drive Final Selection of Competencies

From the long list of competency ideas that was generated, have a smaller group of senior leaders establish criteria that will drive the final selection of competencies. What standards must a competency meet to be important enough to make the final list? How many competencies should there be? When does the list become too long to be impactful?

✓ Conduct Final Review of Proposed Competencies

During a final review of the list of competencies proposed, each member of the senior team should say if they firmly believe: 

  • If executed well, each of these competencies will make a real difference to our business.
  • Each of these competencies are critical guiding principles that all of our leaders should follow.
  • Have we gone into too much detail or left anything critical out that we should expect from our leaders?

✓ Develop Plan to Communicate Competencies Throughout Organization

Once the list of competencies is finalized, a well thought out communication plan needs to be developed. The plan should start with communication from the very top of the organization about the importance of and commitment to developing these competencies in all leaders. The competencies should be talked about as both leadership skills and a guide to the type of company culture that leadership wants to foster. Repeated mentions of this effort and specific competencies in various company communications over time will be critical to the successful implementation of this effort.

✓ Hold Leaders Accountable and Responsible for Competencies

A thoughtful approach will need to be created to hold leaders accountable for taking personal responsibility for their own efforts to develop these competencies in themselves and amongst the people that report to them.

Keystone Partners: Leadership Development and Career Management Experts

If a commitment is made to the approach described above in this checklist, the likelihood of successfully developing leadership competencies will be significantly increased. The first step in this process, which is starting at the top of your organization to agree that the effort of developing leadership competencies is critical to the future success of your business, can’t be skipped. If that step has been completed, you will be confronted with one of the biggest challenges: how to embed this into the culture of your organization. GOOD LUCK!

Keystone Partners has more than 40 years of experience working with clients throughout all aspects of the employee experience. We have extensive experience helping clients create new or update existing competency models. We can help ensure you have the best system in place for your organization. Interested in learning more about how we can help with leadership development and career management-related needs? Contact us today to find out how we can help your organization realize the full potential of your people.

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