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Are You Chasing Attributes, or Competencies?

Are You Chasing Attributes, or Competencies?

There are literally thousands of articles and posts written every week about the attributes of great leaders. Humility, Transparency, Fallibility, Integrity. Although it’s fun and interesting to muse on these attributes, they lack clarity. 

If you actually decided that you wanted to take action to develop one of these attributes, where would you start? What habits would you need to develop? What disciplines could you adopt in your daily life?

We feel inspired and motivated when we talk about this stuff but it’s meaningless unless we choose to do something different. But working out what this means, and what you might do with it to improve your leadership performance is like trying to nail jelly to a cloud… it’s impossibly vague!

Some of these leadership virtues are easier to acquire than others. Can you teach courage? Maybe… but try teaching integrity!

Rather than debating the merits of leadership attributes, we need to focus more on leadership competencies. What do leaders need to competently do, in order to successfully deliver value for their teams and companies?

In Ep.25 of the podcast, I spoke about a self-evaluation and reflection exercise I went through at Harvard Business School over a decade ago. We looked at some of the core competencies of leadership, which I found to be much more useful than talking in theoretical terms about the virtues of leadership.

These included competencies like Seasoned judgment… one of my favorites!

This talks about the judgment that comes from experience in your industry, or chosen field of endeavor… It’s the accumulated knowledge and wisdom that comes from doing something really well for a long time

But beware the fallacy of “20 years experience”… Is it really 20 years’ experience, or one years’ experience 20 times over?

Remember, great leaders exude credibility… if you don’t have a high level of competence in the foundational elements of business, your humility and transparency are meaningless!

Other leadership competencies that resonated with me were:

Visionary thinking, which is a lot about understanding and simplifying complexity

Financial Acumen: It doesn’t matter what type of organization you work for, understanding the financial side of things is a prerequisite

Driving execution: which is sometimes seen as contrary to all the warm and fluffy leadership attributes we frequently read about

Attracting and developing talent: Unless you can do this, the higher up you go, the harder you will find it to achieve anything resembling performance

Empowering others: which is a critical element of delegation, accountability and execution

Influencing and negotiating, one of the most critical skills for a leader. The higher up you go, the less direct control you have over your people’s work, and the more you have to be able to achieve outcomes through influence

Leadership versatility: dealing with changing situations and circumstances… Adapting to different environments, economic conditions, teams, and customer preferences. 

Inspiring trust…

Fostering open dialogue…

Cross functional capability: The higher up you go, the more important it is that you develop a broad perspective on your industry and organization 

And, one of my favorites: Mature confidence… In Ep.229, I explored the differences between confidence and arrogance, and the role that self-doubt plays in regulating your bullsh!t quotient… this might seem to fly in the face of our conventional wisdom on humility, but without it, you will find that people don’t want to follow you!

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