The 4 Competencies of Tomorrow’s Best Leaders

By Laci Loew

Communicator. Can-Do Optimist. Critical Thinker. Collaborator.

Whenever I write about or mention such competencies, I always do so with a bit of hesitation. The talent leader or leadership development VP will get it — competencies have been our currency in HR forever it seems and they sure do serve up a reasonable lexicon. The business leader will get it too – they just usually don’t care.

When it comes to the CEO and her peers, say “competencies” and you’ve blurted a bad word. It’s usually the code word for “I’ve stopped listening; let me know when you’re saying something worthy of my attention – something that makes a business difference.”

The truth in the matter is just that – mastery of (certain) leadership competencies are requisite for accelerating business results; CEOs, other senior business leaders, talent and HR leaders confirm that. In our 2015 State of Leadership Development Study, we asked almost 200 of those leaders about how important and how well implemented business-driven leadership competencies are. This is what they said:

Business-Driven Leadership Competencies: How Important and How Well Implemented?

business driven leadership competencies

So call them what you may (just not BS) – skills, knowledge, abilities, behaviors, capabilities; the label put on them makes no real difference. The manner in which leaders act, or don’t act, in accordance with their intended outcomes makes a significant difference, and moreover, one that tracks to (better or worse) achievement of business goals.

So the question I often, and understandably, hear then is: For what competencies should our leaders be accountable? If you guessed that my answer are the ones that drive achievement of your business goals, you’re right. That said, I acknowledge that each organization is unique with a slightly (if not drastically) different configuration of business goals. And at the same time, I am confident that the majority of those goals tie in like ways to expected revenue, customer satisfaction, retention of top talent, engagement, defect rates, and other similar business metrics.

If you’ve come along with me this far, then perhaps you won’t argue too vehemently that there is likely some small set (perhaps along with others) of leader competencies for which all high-performance organizations (those that get better results on business metrics than their lower performing peers) hold leaders accountable.

The mission in our study then was to identify that short-list of competencies that are non-negotiable for all leaders at all levels, regardless of their organizational industry, size or region, in accelerating achievement of business goals and leading the organization effectively today and into the future. To satisfy our charge, we asked the question:

Which of the following leadership competencies are very important for achievement of your business goals? How well have your leaders mastered them?

And the results are:

Critical Leadership Competencies For Tomorrow’s Leaders

leadership competencies tomorrows leaders

Depending on your business goals, the information in the “Critical Leadership Competencies For Tomorrow’s Leaders” chart here may hold some other very salient data to inform your leadership competency model and leadership development decisions. But it seems to me that at least one thing is for certain: almost 200 global organizations tell us that their leaders need to be expert:

  • Communicators
  • Can-Do Optimists
  • Critical Thinkers
  • Collaborators

They need these four competencies to successfully lead organizations to achievement of business goals. And that most of them have a fairly broad opportunity to improve their performance in those four competencies. Improving our leaders’ mastery in these four areas requires targeted development and often opportunities in lateral assignments to build requisite experience that propels mastery of these competencies.

Being focused and committed to executing on- targeted development, in a progressive and continuous way, reminds me a bit of a recent post I read by a former colleague: Revoking Your License to Lead.

In the post Glenn discusses how getting to be a darn good leader requires  thorough understanding of responsibilities, aptitude for success, and mastery and competence of critical knowledge, skills, abilities – a “certificate to lead” of sorts that includes a competency component.

Have you defined your leadership competencies? Have you double-checked that the competencies in your leadership competency model align with acceleration of your business goals? Are you missing any? Do you need your leaders to be expert communicators, can-do optimists, critical thinkers, and collaborators? Other?

About the Author:

Laci Loew is a vice president and principal analyst of  talent management for the Brandon Hall Group, a preeminent research and analyst firm covering learning and development, talent management, leadership development, talent acquisition and human resources.

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