Article (January-2019)


Competency Based Leadership

Dr. Deepak Sharma

Designation : -   Associate Professor-HR

Organization : -  Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Bangalore

Other Writers : -  Pallavi Seth - IInd Year HR Specialization Student, NarseeMonjee Institute of Management Studies, Bengaluru Campus


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Leadership of Tomorrow
Peter Drucker said, "The leader of the past will know how to tell. The leader of the future will know how to ask". According to Marshall Goldsmith (2014) following five key characteristics would be critical for global leaders of the future: ability to think globally, ability to appreciate cultural diversity, demonstrating technological competencies, building partnerships and sharing leadership.

Jack Welch believed that leaders are people who "inspire with clear vision of how things can be done better". He considered leaders are the people who spark the business to run smoothly and quickly. Leaders talk to their employees, talk with their employees, fill them with vision, get them to perform at levels the employees themselves thought was impossible. After that they simply get out of the way. Above everything, business leaders according to Welch keep things simple.

Taking leadership role in a world that is complex, uncertain and volatile offers a challenging environment where leaders must not only perform but deal with them effectively. They must learn to proactively influence environment around them, anticipate and envision the future, maintain flexibility, think strategically and work with others to initiate changes that will create a competitive advantage for the organization. Leaders of tomorrow need to discover their own capabilities, work upon effective techniques and strategies for articulating a vision, understand relevance of ethics in leadership, respond with willingness to change themselves with the demand of environment and learn to balance nurturance of subordinates with the task orientation.

As opposed to the quote, 'People are born leaders' with time, organizations have proved and evolved effective ways of developing competitive leaders to take their enterprises to new levels. One of these is building competency models which help identify just the competencies that a leader in an organization must display for effective/superior performance.

Understanding Competency
Competency is described as a set of knowledge, skills and abilities that directly influence an employee's job performance.

Competency has its roots in latin word 'competentia' which denotes 'authorized to judge' as well as 'has right to speak' (Caupinet al., 2006). It became widely known in management field through work of Boyatzis in 1982. Boyatzis (1982, 2008) defined competency as, "an underlying characteristic of the person that leads to or causes effective or superior performance…A competency is defined as a capability or ability. It is a set of related but different sets of behavior organized around an underlying construct, which we call the "intent". The behaviors are alternate manifestations of the intent, as appropriate in various situations or times."

Spencer & Spencer (1993) defined a competency as "an underlying characteristic of an individual that is causally related to criterion-referenced effective and/or superior performance in a job or situation". Underlying characteristic means the competency is a fairly deep and enduring part of a person's personality and can predict behaviour in a wide variety of situations and job tasks. Causally-related means that a competency causes or predicts behaviour and performance. Criterion-referenced means that the competency actually predicts who does something well or poorly, as measured on a specific criterion or standard. Characteristics of a person can be seen as an iceberg split up into two parts: one is visible and includes knowledge and skills, and the other is hidden and comprises self-concept, trait or motive. According to Spencer & Spencer "behaviour without intent does not define a competency."

Dubois (1993) proposed that competencies are those characteristics - knowledge, skills, mindsets, thought patterns, and when such characteristics are used either singularly or in various combinations, leads to successful performance.

Parry (1998) asserted that competencies may be understood as a cluster of related knowledge, attitude and skills that influenced a considerable part of one's jobs, correlated with performance on the job and may be improved through training and development.

Identifying Leadership Competencies

McClelland (1973) proposed that competencies may be understood as a combination of knowledge, skills, abilities, and personality characteristics, and they enable individuals to achieve a superior performance.

It is vital that every organization identifies and works upon select competencies as per strategic, operational and individual requirements to gain business advantage. Essential leadership competencies have been defined by the researchers but with the changing nature of jobs and corporate dynamics, new leadership competencies need to be developed as per requirement of roles and responsibilities.

Giles (2016) in a research on what makes an effective leader conducted a study on 195 leaders in 15 countries over 30 global organizations in which participants were asked to choose the top 15 leadership competencies according to them out of a list of 74. Top 10 leadership competencies were grouped into five themes. 67% of respondents selected high ethical and moral standards as most important leadership competency, 59% respondents selected providing goals and objectives with loose guidelines, 56% selected clear communication of expectations, and 52% selected as flexibility to change opinions while 43% selected commitment to ongoing training of respondent as most critical leadership competencies. These indicate leaders are required to demonstrate strong ethics empower others to self-organize, foster a sense of connection and belonging, and show openness to new ideas and foster organizational learning and nurture growth.

Let's take a specific corporate example. Chung (2011) describes that IBM identified nine leadership competencies to be cultivated amongst its employees which were key behaviours validated through research, business practice and foresight of senior company leaders that demonstrated how successful leaders act when they are at their best: they embrace challenge and take charge; they form effective partnerships; they collaborate globally; they are systems thinkers; they build mutual trust; they influence through expertise; they are intellectually curious, open - minded and inclusive; they communicate for impact and they serve the success of others. These competencies were not specific to a management track, or any division of business, but cut across all aspects of the organization.

Goleman and Boyatzis (2017) proposed a model of emotional intelligence (EI) which had four domains, namely, self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management and where twelve competencies were identified for these domains, namely, emotional self-awareness, emotional self-control, adaptability, achievement orientation, positive outlook, empathy, organizational awareness, influence, coaching and mentoring, conflict management, teamwork and inspirational leadership. These competencies include learnable capabilities that allow outstanding performance at work.

Indeed, several studies have found a strong association between EI, driving change, and visionary leadership. In order to excel, leaders need to develop a balance of strengths across the suite of EI competencies. When they do that, excellent business results follow.

Few core leadership competencies that need to be exhibited across a variety of roles, situations, industrial sectors and organizations may be: Led by Vision; Transformational Leadership; Goal - Oriented; Outcome focused; Managing resources, change and projects; Succession Planning; Collaboration; Pace Setter & speed driven.

Competency Mapping

Competency mapping is the process to identify key competencies for an organization and/or a job and incorporating those competencies throughout the various processes of the organization (Sanghi, 2016). Organizations of today are increasingly employing competency mapping and skills to understand how to most effectively employ the employee by understanding competencies required to play that role and the competencies the employee possesses. It leads in most effective recruitment, and selection of the employees in an organization.

Competency mapping techniques such as Behavioural event interviews (BEI) may effectively be deployed by organizations to understand leadership competencies required to succeed in leadership roles at different levels in an organization and thereafter develop a competency model.

Coaching for Developing Leadership Competency

Leadership coaching may focus on development of leadership competencies, viz., developing and communicating strategic vision, strategic planning, driving cultural change initiatives, ambassadorship, leading executive teams, overcoming isolation, interpersonal skills, communication, dealing effectively with colleagues etc. leadership coaching may be initiated for large scale leadership competency building interventions, developing performance of high potential leaders as well as aligning organizational goals with those of individuals.

Role of Development Centres

Development Centres may be assessment centres designed to diagnose development needs as well as to catalyse development within the course of assessment centre. Development Centres may be effectively used for building critical organizational competencies. Development centres where trainer plays more of a role of facilitator may hold in providing immediate feedback to participant and may lead to development of relevant leadership competencies.


Taking all these factors into consideration, a competency model on leadership should be built that reflects organization's culture, values, goals and vision. Competency models hold together the social architecture that all successful businesses need. And for this purpose, it is extremely important for every organization to lay down the list of core competencies across job roles which are essential for an employee and organization's success.

Leadership competencies may consist of core competencies as well as competencies depending on specific context within which business may be operating. At the same time, it is vital that the model remains updated and to achieve this appropriate feedback from the employees, their superiors and peers in form of seeking information on the suitability, relevance of the competencies in different roles as well as competencies possessed by employees/job incumbents and gaps existing. Once the gaps are identified, they can then be filled by taking suitable initiatives and training programs in alignment with the individual development plans.

The key takeaways are that it is an effective way of preparing a pipeline of competent leaders and can have a positive impact on the overall performance of the organization. With investment in the employees on competency building, the employees feel engaged and motivated to work for the organization and increases their willingness to take initiative and perform well in their leadership roles. Organizations may gain by building on its critical capabilities to face the challenge of change more realistically by being equipped with 'competency based leadership' to face such challenges.