15 Competencies of Great Leadership

In my previous blog post – 2 Fundamental Questions All Great Leaders Ask  – we focused on these 2 questions:

Am I a leader worth following?

Am I building teams built to last?

There are 3 components to each of these questions.  Competency, Commitment, and Character are essential to the first question: “Am I a leader worth following?”  This blog will focus on the competencies of leadership.

Competency has different meanings, and continues to remain one of the most dispersed terms in leadership development.  For the purpose of this blog, competency is defined as a combination of practical and theoretical knowledge, cognitive skills, behaviour, and values used to improve performance.

Here are 15 Competencies of Leadership important to becoming a leader worth following:

  1. Calmness and optimism – An army general describing a war zone emphasized the importance of staying calm because “calm is contagious.” Teams take their cues from leaders of how to react to stressful and chaotic situations. Do you remain calm and optimistic in the face of adversity?  Alexis Hunter wrote, “The only prerequisites to leadership are that you remain positive, calm, and open-minded.”
  1. Shift judgement to curiosity – Leaders need to stay curious rather than jumping to conclusions. Do you ask questions or work on assumptions?  Curiosity about your customers, product or team member’s behaviour will garner greater results than quick judgements.
  1. Innovate – When something doesn’t go right, how do you respond? Organizations that don’t allow failure to happen limit the amount of learning they can accomplish, which limits their overall success. To innovate successfully, promote a culture of learning from failure.
  1. Celebrate – Once a major project is completed or milestone is reached, it is tempting to quickly move on to the next thing. Take the time to celebrate and acknowledge significant organizational and personal milestones and achievements to strengthen your team.
  1. Prioritize – Can you fit all the big rocks, pebbles and sand into a jar? Depends on what order you do it in.  Put the big rocks in first, then the pebbles and then the sand.  This is a great time management metaphor.  What are your big rocks that need your focus and attention?  What is the sand that keeps distracting and wasting time?
  1. Delegate – Do you delegate outcomes or tasks? It is easier to tell someone exactly how to do something, but it does not inspire nor build internal motivation for your team members.  Focus on the what, not the how.
  1. Ask the right questions – It is tempting for leaders just to give answers, which builds dependency. Great leaders ask the right questions so team members will come to their own conclusions.
  1. Validation – Do you say thank you or give encouraging messages to your team members? The key to validation is being specific and personal.  When is the last time you wrote a hand-written note to a team member?
  1. Presence – Leaders make themselves present and available. You can’t observe and learn things about your organization simply sitting behind a screen.
  1. Credibility and resource – There is a lot of truth in the saying, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” Do you tap into the talents of your team?  Are you clear about what unique value you bring to your team?
  1. Sharpen the saw – Covey’s timeless reminder of taking the time to build ourselves often goes ignored. Do you take the time to invest in yourself and grow as a leader?  Does your team take the time to grow, plan, and strategize?
  1. Set the example – Leaders set the tone; what you say and how you behave shapes the culture around you.
  1. Work outside your comfort zone but not outside your gift zone – John Maxwell gives this sage advice. Are you clear about your strengths and gifts?  What are you doing to push these to the next level?
  1. Listen – It is always good to remember that we have two ears and one mouth, and to use them proportionally. Are you a leader who truly listens and allows team members to feel heard?
  1. Humility – Jim Collins’ research found that the best leaders (Level 5) build enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility and professional will. Leadership isn’t about you; it’s about the people you serve.

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John Neufeld

Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Learning

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