Leadership competencies

Practical Tips to Raise Up and Inspire Future Leaders, Part 5

In our series, Raising Up Leaders, we discussed that 51% of any great leader’s job is to develop new leaders. This process of raising up leaders is vital to any organization’s long-term success. In the previous article, we looked at the importance of charisma as a key to relating to people in order to influence them. While character is ultimately the bedrock upon which all good leadership is built, without charisma, people will not join the vision. Today, we will discuss leadership competencies.


Competence is the ability to do something successfully or efficiently. It is typically thought of as the technical skill set. Business Dictionary extends the definition to “A cluster of related abilities, commitments, knowledge, and skills that enable a person (or an organization) to act effectively in a job or situation.”

Defining the Needed Leadership Competencies

To assess whether a potential leader has the competency needed for the role for which they are ultimately being considered, these competencies must be defined clearly. Without these clear definitions, there is no real target or yardstick by which to measure. Some leaders do this by “gut intuition,” but they are really operating from a set of leadership competencies that are merely unwritten. The danger in this is no one else in the organization can help the leader assess potential leaders because others can’t typically tap into the leader’s “assessment powers.” Documenting leadership competencies allows for clearly assessing leadership potential and helping the prime leader identify future leaders.

Why Having Clear Leadership Competencies Is Important

Defining which leadership competencies are necessary for success in your organization can help you do the following:

  • Ensure your staff demonstrates sufficient expertise
  • Recruit and select new staff more effectively
  • Evaluate performance more effectively
  • Identify skill and competency gaps more efficiently
  • Provide more customized training and professional development
  • Plan sufficiently for succession
  • Make change management processes work more efficiently

How to Write a Competency

Here is a method to ensure each competency is written for maximum organizational benefit.

  1. Begin with a present tense action verb. (Example: Convert meters to points and inches.)
  2. Each action verb requires an object. (Example: Identify bacteria, fungi, and parasites.) (A verb followed by an object.)
  3. Each competency is measurable and/or observable. (Example: Describe general methods of child study by describing such procedures as longitudinal study, case study and correlational study.)
  4. Base each competency on performance. (Example: Evaluate literacy genre from a historical perspective by comparing and contrasting the literary works in the 19th Century.)
  5. Do not use evaluative or relative adjectives or adverbs like good, effective, appropriate or quickly, slowly, immediately.)
  6. Do not use qualifying phrases such as “Write with greater confidence.”
  7. Say what you mean, using only necessary words.

(Source: https://sph.uth.edu/content/uploads/2012/01/Competencies-and-Learning-Objectives.pdf based upon a revision of Bloom, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Handbook I; Dave, Developing and Writing Behavioral Objectives; and Krathwohl, Bloom, and Masia, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Handbook II.)

Once these competencies are clearly defined, they can be used to train and to assess the progress of potential leaders to see what growth is present and where training is needed.

What Leadership Competencies Are Needed By the Potential Leader?

This is tough to define, as they are very role specific (unlike character and charisma, which are much more universal.) Often, the best approach to developing a list of leadership competencies is to start with a general list and then customize it to your particular culture.

In general, business competencies fall under the following realms:

  • business
  • finance
  • management
  • leadership
  • sales and marketing
  • communication skills
  • negotiation
  • organizing
  • foreign languages
  • teaching / training / coaching
  • project management
  • customer relationship management
  • writing (project /research reports, articles)
  • legislation
  • foreign cultures
  • patents
  • quality

A great strategy in developing a competency list is to identify your current high-performing leaders and involve them in outlining competencies since they utilize these skills daily. Don’t let HR solely develop the competency list, as they don’t always know what each job actually involves. To fully understand a role, you have to go to the source – the person doing the job – as well as getting a variety of other inputs into what makes someone successful in that job.

Core Leadership Competencies

Here are some example core leadership competencies:

  • Acts to align own unit’s goals with the strategic direction of the business
  • Ensures that everyone understands and identifies with the unit’s mission
  • Measures and evaluates individual team member’s achievement of competencies
  • Shares their expertise with others
  • Expresses confidence in the ability of others to be successful
  • Encourages groups to resolve problems on their own; avoids prescribing a solution
  • Develops less expensive ways to produce equal results
  • Provides behaviorally specific feedback to others

The list can go on and on, but keep the most important competencies in the forefront of every potential leader and leadership trainer’s mind. Note: These are different than goals. Goals can be competency-centered and/or output-centered, such as sales numbers met, contacts made, deals closed. Goals are often subsets of competencies. Consider the following example:

A telephone representative’s annual goal might be increasing the number of customer phone calls answered per day by 5 percent. This is not a behavioral objective or a global competency. However, it might be listed in a representative’s evaluation under the competency of “customer service” and under the behavioral objective of “answering telephone calls at a minimum level of call volume.”

In the next article in this series on Raising Up Leaders, we’ll look at how to develop competence, stacking it like a roof on the foundation of character and the walls of charisma.



Karen Keller, Ph.D., CEO of Karen Keller International, Inc., is author and creator of the Keller Influence Indicator® (KII®). She is a clinical psychologist and Master Certified Coach specializing in influence and human behavior. Dr. Keller develops programs, materials and resources relating to the Art of Influence. Her latest influence report, SOCR®, incorporates a person’s Seven Influence Traits® as related to 5 Organizational Competencies. She is passionate at helping people and companies develop their influence potential and an influence culture. Dr. Keller speaks to groups around the globe about the impact of influence in business and relationships. Contact her at karen.keller@Karen-Keller.com or www.karen-keller.com

  • footer-logo

    There’s a more human way to do business.

    In the Social Age, it’s how we engage with customers, collaborators and strategic partners that matters; it’s how we create workplace optimism that sets us apart; it’s how we recruit, retain (and repel) employees that becomes our differentiator. This isn’t a “people first, profits second” movement, but a “profits as a direct result of putting people first” movement.

  • Connect

    email: connect@switch&shift.com
    1133 Ferreto Parkway
    Dayton, NV 89403

    Terms & Conditions  |  Privacy Policy

    Newsletter Subscription

    Do you like our posts? If so, you’ll love our frequent newsletter! Sign up HERE and receiveThe Switch and Shift Change Playbook, by Shawn Murphy, as our thanks to you!
  • Contact Us

    Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.