Feature Article: Leadership Competence – Part II

Feature Articles / July 2001

This is the fifth in a series of articles on elements of Integral Leadership.

A Leadership Opportunity: An Integral Approach is premised on the idea that heroic ideas of leadership are no longer sufficient to serve the requirements of business in the face of rapid change and complexity. I am always pleased when I find a quotation such as the one by Harlan Cleveland above that supports this point of view. As you read these issues of LeadershipOpportunity you will find a growing list of authors and practitioners who value this perspective.

To be totally clear this does not mean that acts of heroism are not still valuable in business and elsewhere. On the contrary there are moments, situations and circumstances that are best served through acts of heroism. However, in today’s world of business, even those are episodic. It is only our myths of leadership that allow us to interpret events to suggest that it is the heroic act of one person that can change the course of business development. The heroic leader is a leader among leaders. Acts of courage and leadership are required of many.

In the same issue of Fast Company is an article about how West Point trains leaders for battle who also are effective as leaders in business. It is difficult to imagine a more hierarchical structure that epitomizes our myths of heroic leadership than the United States Army (or just about any other army for that matter). Yet in this institution there are appeals to values of selflessness and learning. “Everyone leads, and everyone follows. Everyone models, and everyone assesses.”

Competence is the subject of almost all of the literature on the subject of leadership. After all, that has been the focus of much of our thinking about leadership: the key competencies required to be effective as a leader. We have many models for this that range from personal characteristics to situational. Most recently we have the ideas of emotional competence related to leadership. It is likely that all of these approaches have relevance and meaning at one time or another in the opportunities for leadership in business.

How can leaders make sense of the different models and approaches to leadership? One way is to understand that competencies are contextual in two senses. First, the business itself sets a critical context. This is demonstrated in strategy (longer term) and business objectives (short-term goals). For example, if a short-term goal is to beat the competition to the market with a new product, leadership competencies may range from a capacity to help others to focus attention and action on specific sets of requirements to participating effectively in teamwork that is required. Each leader must identify leverage points and draw on those competencies that are relevant.

The second context is that of leadership, itself. The individual leader is but a part of a leadership system which must be focused on the goals and practices of leadership. Coordination, cooperation, collaboration, integration and dancing with diversity, conflict and rapid change are the characteristics of the leadership arena in which the individual leader is one participant among others. Leadership competencies, whether the capacity to communicate effectively or aspects of emotional intelligence, must be brought to bear not just by one individual, but by several and perhaps many. There are many tools or skills that can be brought from the tool bucket of leadership.

In the prior article in this series, I suggested five key competencies related to the use of time, energy, information, access to influence, special skills and knowledge and credibility. This is not the only possible list. Whatever leadership model is used, both contexts must be considered.

Leaders need to be clear about business objectives and define their leadership purpose collectively in relation to those. As members of the leadership group with a clear purpose they can act individually and collectively to assure that purpose is supported. Then they must use their collective leadership resources and individual competencies to move forward.

Each individual contributor to leadership can support the creation of an efficient and effective leadership organization in support of purpose and the achievement of business objectives. That is the foundation on which appropriate teamwork and constructive relationships with stakeholders are built. That is the basis for successful leadership in successful businesses.

Next: The Limited Requirements of Teamwork

Thanks to those who have responded to the invitation to join an R&D project for about three months. I hope to get this started by the end of July. More information will follow.

We need to understand more about the relationship between the needs of executives and how coaching can support those needs. The Manchester Group has provided a report about this that is very useful. And I think we can do even better.

More specifically, I want to learn more about how the approach offered in A Leadership Opportunity: An Integral Approach can strengthen how development takes place with the support of coaches. This will include consideration of coaching in relation to

  • business objectives
  • purpose and commitment
  • resources and competence
  • teamwork and innovation
  • engagement with stakeholders

You are invited to join in a 3-month (approximately) R&D process to explore these questions. Once every week or two I will send an email requesting input and/or feedback. In return, I will share all of the results with you.

Our first question will focus on the ways to define the business context of leaders from strategy to crisis.

Each member of my R&D team will receive a free copy of A Leadership Opportunity: An Integral Approach at some point in the process. The initial questions will be more generic, but you will receive the ebook in plenty of time to review it before we focus more specifically on what it offers.

Who am I looking for? I want individuals who have been or are executives or who have experience coaching executives in business. I would like to get 30 to participate, but I like the open space concept: whoever comes are the right people. I hope you will be one of those people. Just send an email toruss@integraleadershipreview.com and you will be contacted in the next new weeks.

> Russ Volckmann