Leadership development encompasses formal & informal training and professional development programs designed to assist employees in developing leadership skills (SHRM, 2020). Leadership development training — intended to enhance knowledge, skills, & abilities — includes leader, managerial, and supervisory training/development programs and/or workshops (Lacerenza, Reyes, Marlow, Joseph, & Salas, 2017).
Competencies are observable skills and behaviors required for success at work (Barnfield & Lombardo, 2014). No single coaching & development guide offers all the leadership competencies that I believe a modern-day leader needs to possess. As such, I have compiled leadership competencies from three coaching & development guides:
Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) – Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching
Korn & Ferry – FYI For Your Improvement (6th ed.)
Stewart Leadership – LEAD NOW! A Personal Leadership Coaching Guide for Results-Driven Leaders (2nd ed.)
1. Action Oriented (FYI 6th ed.) – Taking on new opportunities and tough challenges with a sense of urgency, high energy, and enthusiasm. Thoughts, initiatives, plans, designs, strategies—all critically important, but none of them will make a difference without execution. And that’s where action oriented people come in. They make things happen. Ideas become plans. Plans become reality.
2. Adaptability to Change (Compass) – Can adjust to, learn from, and embrace change as necessary for future success. Because of the magnitude and frequency of the changes occurring within and affecting organizations, great value accrues to leaders who can dependably adapt to and embrace change. Leaders who resist change are perceived as stuck in their ways and unaware of the trends at play within the organization and the market in which it operates. Resistance to change can hamper how your direct reports and others respond to changing circumstances. Upper management may see such leaders as unready to step up to the next level of leadership—too stubborn, too fearful, perhaps even weak.
3. Being Resilient (FYI 6th ed.) – Setbacks are often unavoidable. Potential pitfalls are everywhere, especially in today's demanding, adverse, and often volatile working environment. Even the most resilient people experience setbacks. The difference is they anticipate them. Meet them head-on. Have the ability to withstand them. They use their resilience to stay in control. To keep positive and believe there is a way forward, even when it can't be seen. They recover quickly, learn, and move forward. But resilience doesn't come easy. It requires courage and commitment. The more resilient you become, the more you'll stay calm under pressure and positively adapt to difficult situations. You'll keep going when you feel like giving up. You'll bounce back to baseline levels of performance, confidence, and satisfaction sooner. Not only that, you'll be better equipped to confront the next challenge that arises.
4. Builds Networks (FYI 6th ed.) – Effectively building formal and informal relationship networks inside and outside the organization. Maintains relationships across a variety of functions and locations. Draws upon multiple relationships to exchange ideas, resources, and know-how. To be successful, you need to know who people are and what they do. How to collaborate, share resources, and maintain productive relationships.
5. Business Acumen & Insight (FYI 6th ed.) – Applying knowledge of business and the marketplace to advance the organization’s goals. Knows how businesses work and how organizations make money. Keeps up with current and possible future policies, practices, and trends in the organization, with the competition, and in the marketplace. Uses knowledge of business drivers and how strategies and tactics play out in the market to guide actions.
6. Change Management (LEAD NOW 2nd ed.) – Change management is the ability to communicate a compelling vision, lead small to large changes within an organization, and sustain the change over time. Organizations that don’t respond and adapt favorably to the world around them will fail. Effective leaders study global trends to anticipate needed change. They know how to plan, implement, and communicate change, respect and manage resistance, and remain active and visible during a change effort. They successfully sponsor and support personal, team, and organizational change efforts and celebrate successes along the way.
7. Coaching (LEAD NOW 2nd ed.) – Coaching is guiding and challenging an individual to achieve improved performance through self-discovery, feedback, encouragement, and skill development. A leader is accountable to both employees and the organization for developing and growing people so they can perform at their full potential and achieve job satisfaction. Coaching helps build a person’s strengths and identifies ways to manage personal challenges and opportunities. Effective leaders have a coaching style that shows care and concern for the individual, builds engagement, fosters open dialogue, and encourages diversity of thought.
8. Conflict Management (FYI 6th ed.) – Conflict is a natural part of organizational life. There is conflict over information, resources, opinions, territory, position. If it’s important to someone, it has the potential to cause conflict. Handled badly, conflict can entrench. Disrupt productivity. Damage relationships. But conflict isn’t always a bad thing. Conflict surfaces previous undiscussables. Highlights not just the disconnects but also the intersection of ideas. Managed well, conflict provides a forum for finding better alternatives, even breakthroughs, in building relationships and solving problems. But only when the people involved treat each other constructively and respectfully. When you manage conflict effectively, you begin to see conflicts less as headaches and more as opportunities. Issues get resolved. Collaboration improves. Solution focus replaces negativity and recrimination. Things progress in a positive direction.
9. Confronting Problem Employees (Compass) – Act decisively, quickly, and fairly when dealing with underperforming, disruptive employees. Leaders who are unable or unwilling to deal with problem employees can’t avoid the fallout from those employees’ poisonous effect on teams and others in the organization. Problem employees affect more than their own performance. They can damage entire teams by lowering morale, derailing results, and planting the seeds of disengagement. And the responsibility for maintaining team performance in many respects falls to the leader—so confronting the problem directly and quickly is essential to leadership success.
10. Decision Making (LEAD NOW 2nd ed.) – The ability to understand why a decision needs to be made as well as how to define, analyze, implement, and communicate the decision to those affected by its outcomes. It requires balancing information with intuition and knowing when to stop analyzing a problem and make a decision. Your decisions can affect more than the present issue and you need to consider what those effects might be. The impact and buy-in of your decisions will determine their effectiveness.
11. Delegating (LEAD NOW 2nd ed.) – Delegating is assigning a task, communicating its objective and timeline, setting expectations, and providing resources and support to complete it. Delegating is a demonstration of trust in your people. It communicates that you believe that both of you can do more. It helps them grow and develop while freeing your time to address your pressing priorities. Successful delegation requires a conscious choice to share the workload and let others learn and prove themselves. This can be career enhancing for you and your people.
12. Directs Work (FYI 6th ed.) – Providing direction, delegating, and removing obstacles to get work done. There is a major career transition point when a person needs to shift from doing the work to getting work done through others. The transition is difficult for many. It means giving up direct control over the work, which involves more risk. More need to trust and equip others to get the work done. And a shift in focus from personal achievement to enabling and empowering others. Another major transition happens when a leader stops being the expert in a particular function, area, discipline, and instead starts leading the experts. A tough transition again—to give up being the person most in-the-know. Leaders who succeed at these transitions start developing new skills and know when it’s time to stop relying on the old. They learn to set clear expectations, to track progress, and to communicate information that people need to do their jobs. Their focus shifts to helping others develop their skills and gain confidence. Guide. Delegate. And trust. Navigate these leadership rites of passage and you’ll not only help other people be successful in their roles, you’ll be on your way to becoming more successful in yours.
13. Drives Results (FYI 6th ed.) – Consistently achieving results, even under tough circumstances. Driving results is an overall achievement mindset, a bias for action, an eagerness to take the initiative. People who drive for results infuse their teams and organizations with a sense of urgency. They help create a culture where organizational performance is always top of mind. Driving results means communicating a vision, setting priorities, developing and executing plans that achieve the desired outcome—for the organization and the world. As a leader, you must be willing to act and follow through to drive results.
14. Drives Vision & Purpose (FYI 6th ed.) – Painting a compelling picture of the vision and strategy that motivates others to action. Talks about future possibilities in a positive way.
Creates milestones and symbols to rally support behind the vision. Articulates the vision in a way everyone can relate to. Creates organization-wide energy and optimism for the future. Shows personal commitment to the vision.
15. Effective Communication (LEAD NOW 2nd ed.) – The ability to clearly express targeted messages, at the right time, using the right media, and the right venues. It requires follow-through and feedback to ensure understanding and stakeholder alignment. It’s recognizing that every aspect of your business relies on the effective exchange of information. Your communication skills in all your workplace relationships are crucial to your overall success as a leader.
16. Inspiring Commitment (LEAD NOW 2nd ed.) – Inspiring commitment is the ability to influence and motivate your people to higher levels of engagement and performance by earning their hearts. This requires a constant flow of communication that helps others feel energized, connected, and devoted to the organization’s purpose and future. It involves an awareness of each individual’s concerns, strengths, and influencers. It’s understanding the importance of mutual loyalty and how to leverage the motivating factors that drive each individual’s performance. Commitment starts with you, the leader, and it applies to all of your critical workplace relationships.
17. Interpersonal Relationships (Compass) – Skilled in building and maintaining interpersonal relationships. Developing good working relationships with others thanks an understanding about what others need and how to respond appropriately. If you struggle with interpersonal relationships, small misunderstandings can grow into big conflicts. Poor interpersonal relationships are a breeding ground for distrust and can undermine confidence in your leadership.
18. Manages Complexity (FYI 6th ed.) – Making sense of complex, high quantity, and sometimes contradictory information to effectively solve problems. Asks the right questions to accurately analyze situations. Acquires data from multiple and diverse sources when solving problems. Uncovers root causes to difficult problems. Evaluates pros and cons, risks and benefits of different solution options.
19. Negotiation (Compass) – Reach consensus while maintaining positive, sustainable relationships. Negotiation is a collection of several skills, including influence, communication, self-awareness, and conflict resolution. Competence in all these areas and in others will help you reach consensus on a specific question, ironing out agreements, and otherwise bringing diverse interests together to support a specific goal. Negotiation isn’t always about winning but about creating sustainable value for all sides.
20. Nimble Learning (FYI 6th ed.) – Can draw on your past experiences (of successes and failures) and apply the learning to a new and different setting (i.e., when tackling new problems). To become a nimble learner is to be engaged in the present while drawing on past learnings and thinking about future needs. Ask good questions. Learn from experience. Be willing to try new things. And be flexible in the face of new or changing information.
21. Organizational Savvy (LEAD NOW 2nd ed.) – Organizational savvy is knowing how to get things done through formal and informal channels, and understanding the cultural dynamics of the organization. It’s knowing who knows whom, who can do what, who’s willing, who has the authority, who can make it happen, who knows the history, who knows the unwritten rules, who can break the logjam, who knows the way around policies, who owes you a favor, and who likes a good challenge. It’s all about the connections you build, how you influence others, and your agility in leveraging these relationships, in ethical ways, to get what needs to be done, done.
22. Problem Solving (Compass) – Bring fresh solutions to difficult problems. Organizations see innovative problem solving as essential to continued growth and to maintaining a competitive edge. When you demonstrate a knack for innovating solutions when all else fails, you will find yourself called on to play a role in solving some of the organization’s most important and perplexing problems. Your ability to generate and apply novel solutions inspires others and can move organizations in new directions.
23. Risk Taking (Compass) – Take calculated risks to create and seize opportunities for making your organization better. Don’t become paralyzed by uncertainty. Take necessary, considered risks and you will advance further in your career and outperform your more cautious peers. Challenge others and push for change and growth—for yourself, your team, and your organization. Increase your comfort with and skill at taking risks and position yourself to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
24. Strategic Thinking (LEAD NOW 2nd ed.) – Strategic thinking is connecting abstract ideas to create actionable patterns that drive future business. It requires the wisdom and ability to devise and balance short- and long-term plans. It is based in organizational, competitive, and socioeconomic analysis. It’s asking insightful questions, anticipating and planning for change, and focusing team energy to maximize your organization’s ongoing position in the marketplace. It’s thinking like a CEO.
25. Team Building (LEAD NOW 2nd ed.) – Team building is helping a group of individuals work together to accomplish a common goal. A well-orchestrated team will leverage the strengths of each member in an atmosphere of belonging and encouragement. As the team leader, you’ll set the strategic direction, create the plan, and organize the members. To drive performance, you’ll magnify the synergy and abilities of the team through skilled listening, communication, coaching, and training.
26. Tolerating Ambiguity (Compass) – Thrive in unclear situations. In today’s business environment, ambiguity is pervasive and affects leaders at all organizational levels. With the right development, you can be the leader who seizes the creative moment rather than freezes with indecision. Learn to handle ambiguity comfortably and confidently and learn to anticipate situations rather than simply react to or retreat from them. Performing well in ambiguous circumstances separates those people who can be counted on to lead in disruptive, confusing times from people who can’t.
Job Assignment Areas
When developing leaders, it's important to identify different types of job (or stretch) assignments that can foster their professional development. There are 3 benefits to doing this: (1) job assignments help assess a person's readiness level to take on more responsibilities while expanding his skill base, (2) it's a proving ground for establishing new skills and abilities, and (3) it reduces the risk of a career transition by offering a realistic look at what's involved in a new job setting or leadership role (Barner, 2011).
(1) Working Through Messy Problems
Effective leaders successfully handle complex, poorly-defined problems that have no readily available solutions. These types of problems are valuable because they push a leader’s thinking. As the problem solver, you need to identify the critical parameters of a complex situation, define the problem, explore solutions, assess the risk levels associated with implementing the solutions, and gain alignment from different stakeholders on the proposed solution (Barner, 2011).
(2) Influencing Without Authority
A critical leadership skill involves being able to sell ideas, negotiate tradeoffs, and balance the competing interests of leaders across the organization. This skill is particularly challenging when one lacks direct authority to drive results through positional power and authority. The best leaders can maintain a high level of credibility and trust with stakeholders from other organizational groups and gain the commitment of those groups to reach business objectives (Barner, 2011).
(3) Managing Change
The growth of international efforts, the challenges brought about by acquisitions and mergers, the introduction of new product lines or markets, and continual revisions in both organizational structure and leadership benches are but some of the difficult and stressful organizational changes that need to be managed in today’s organization.Companies need leaders who can step out in front of such changes and successfully obtain results, while retaining employee commitment for change (Barner, 2011).
(4) Thinking Strategically
Good leaders are able to keep one eye on the long-term trajectory of their organization while keeping the other eye focused on day-to-day expediencies. Thinking strategically means being able to not only develop long-term overarching objectives that constitute a winning game plan for a function or business unit, but also being able to understand the long-term ramifications of short-term decisions (Barner, 2011).
(5) Working with Diverse Groups of People
Organizations are becoming increasingly diverse with respect to ethnic, cultural, and generational diversity. However, cognitive diversity — the ability to work with people who think quite differently from us and who approach problems from very divergent perspectives — is also very important. An example is an IT leader’s ability to understand the perspectives of other departments in arriving at a plan for implementing an enterprise-wide technology change (Barner, 2011).
(6) Working Across Silos and Functions
A critical leadership competency is the ability to accomplish projects that span organizational boundaries. These projects might include getting commitment from other functions on key initiatives, achieving alignment on seemingly contradictory functionally driven objectives, or managing process improvement projects that extend across functions (Barner, 2011).
(7) Developing Expertise Beyond Your Function
Effective leaders understand that their success in influencing actions across their organizations is strongly dependent on their ability to speak the language of other functions, understand business issues that span organizational boundaries, and align their requirements with the needs and priorities of other work groups. For an HR leader, this might involve building a business case for an HR initiative that is based on a solid knowledge of financial analytics. For a sales leader, the same skill might focus on understanding how a new product launch will create a downstream impact on engineering, manufacturing, and distribution (Barner, 2011).
(8) Managing Through to Execution
When executives discuss whether an individual has the potential for taking on broader leadership roles, a key question that is often asked is, “Has this person demonstrated the ability to get things done?” Coming up with good ideas is not hard, but a rare/valuable skill is the ability to find ways to creatively work around cost, time, and resource constraints to see an idea through to implementation. This skill area is especially important if you work in a function such as process improvement or strategic planning, where the majority of your time involves strategy development and problem analysis, rather than business execution (Barner, 2011).
(9) Taking a Broader Perspective
Some of the most useful leadership developmental assignments are those that force us to examine our work from a broader organizational perspective. This means being able to think at the next level; to understand the issues, concerns, and leadership thinking that drive your manager’s decisions and priorities. It also means being able to move beyond a narrow view of your job to see how your work is viewed from the perspectives of your internal stakeholders and external customers. Finally, it involves developing an understanding of the potential impact of broader organization-wide business objectives and change initiatives (Barner, 2011).
Barner, R. (2011). Accelerating your development as a leader: A guide for leaders and their managers. John Wiley & Sons.
Barnfield, H. C., & Lombardo, M. M. (2014). FYI: For Your Improvement – Competencies Development Guide (6th ed.). Korn Ferry.
Lacerenza, C. N., Reyes, D. L., Marlow, S. L., Joseph, D. L., & Salas, E. (2017). Leadership training design, delivery, and implementation: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102 (12), 1686-1718.
Scisco, P, Biech, E, & Hallenbeck, G. (2017). Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching. Center for Creative Leadership.
SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management). (2020). Developing Organizational Leaders. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/pages/developingorganizationalleaders.aspx
Stewart, J. P., & Stewart, D. J. (2021). LEAD NOW!: A Personal Leadership Coaching Guide for Results-Driven Leaders (2nd ed.). Page Two Press.