Core leadership competence

What is the most important competence for a leader to have?
Try googling ‘Leadership Competences’ and you will get about three million entries. On analyzing those entries, three things come to light: an indigestible list, a lot of ignorance, and an absence.
Core Leadership Skill
Let’s start with the first one. On reading the list of must have competences, the leader is left under the impression that a (s)he has to know it all. From the most common abilities, such as being able to communicate effectively, develop others, manage performances and make decisions to the most extraordinary ones, like how to promote innovation, guide change and transform the organization. From the most strategic aspects to the most operational ones. From day-to-day affairs to long-term vision. It seems everything is possible as long as there is a leader in a company. No one else is needed as the leader does it all.

However, the problem lies in the fact that this complete list of competences is indigestible in a process of leader development. Hence the need to understand the company business’ core competences and focus our investment in the ones that contribute directly to the business.

The second thing that we come across is a lot of ignorance in the competences models proposed by consulting firms and universities, the so said specialists. Dimensions of certain concepts such as honesty and integrity, a stable personal life, result achievement, customer orientation, along with hundreds of other items, are not competences.

They may be important aspects for a leader, namely attitudes, values, practical consequences of the implementation of competence, attitudes, personality traits or communication styles. But they are not competences, so they do not fit into a list of competences.

A competence is the combination of knowledge, skill and behaviour shown in a particular situation. Only when these three dimensions are present can we say that a person is competent in a given area.

A competence can be trained. We can provide knowledge through training or education, by training motor or cognitive skills, and encouraging behaviour in real life situations through ‘coaching’, ‘mentoring’ or other tools. Attitude, personality traits and the rest cannot be trained. So they are not competences.

Finally, the great absence of ‘online’ research: The core competence in leader development. The skill without which none of the others can be fully assimilated and implemented. Which one is it? Managing the impact of our behaviour in others.

If I do not understand the complexity of social situations, the management of expectations in interpersonal relationships, the dynamics generated within groups, their impact on individual behaviour or how the behaviour of a leader affects these variables, I lack the essential knowledge to understand the impact of my own behaviour on others. If I do not possess the skills I need to operate effectively in a wide range of social situations, which include the ability to act based on different roles according to circumstances, I will not achieve the necessary social performance to maximize the impact of my behaviour on others.

If I do not apply both those dimensions in real situations to my job,
I will not be able to assimilate any of the indispensable skills of a leader. Because a leader’s job is 100% based on the ability to manage the impact of one’s behaviour on others.

Obvious, right? So much so that we tend to forget about it. Until you need it.

(originally published in Human, May 2015)
by Ricardo Vargas