Feature Article: Leadership Competence

Feature Articles / June 2001

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

Business leaders, individually and collectively, clarify the purpose of leadership in relation to business objectives. This sets the context for commitment by individual leaders. It also establishes how leaders can determine what is important about using leadership resources: time, energy, information, access to influence, special skills and knowledge and credibility to support leadership purpose and achieve business objectives. That is a collective challenge.

Individually, leaders have an opportunity to clarify what is important to them about their leadership competency. This is related to the collective use of resources. Much of the literature about business leadership is focused on this aspect of leadership: what is important and how leadership behaviors can express that.

The whole idea of leadership purpose linked to business objectives is a dynamic, changing dimension of leadership. Here is where leaders ride the white water. As the environment changes, objectives change, leadership purpose adjusts, and the demand for leader commitment and competence varies.

Time is a scarce commodity for most executive leaders in business. That is why so many spend long hours at work and take their work home with them. At least that is our image of executives. And for many, this is no doubt true. Developing leader competence in relation to time has included a variety of strategies: time management, asynchronous systems, delegation, clarifying executive use of group processes and elimination of tolerations.

Energy is as scarce as time. And the two are no doubt linked. Energy is a product of health, fitness, interest, mental models, spirit and balance in one’s life. That’s a whole bunch of what life is all about. In fact, we could think of the evidence for the existence of life as being energy. Energy in leadership means the capacity to draw on one’s skills, competencies, attention and capacity for activating others. Developing leader competence with energy means encouraging the skills and attitudes required for balance and excitement in life and work.

Information is often in oversupply. There is so much of it going around, how do we choose which to pay attention to and which to ignore? What information can the leader trust others to manage and what must they attend to themselves? In the face of information overload there may be a tendency to control the flow. Historically, information has been treated as a source of power in organizations. Hold it close and trade it for what you want. Now, with the rapid pace of change in the environment and within organizations it has become more important to assure that information flows to those who can use it to be more effective in taking action. Technology helps to do this even while facilitating overwhelm. The competence of a leader involves building processes that allow that information to flow. For in this chaotic business context it is often impossible to predict who can use the information in a way to further the interests of the enterprise.

Access to influence has always been about control. The demand for access challenges the use of time, energy and information. But in these conditions of rapid change, allowing those with relevant information the opportunity to influence decisions is critically important. Something may seem like an operations decision, but R&D may know something that has a huge impact. Leader skills in creating a climate where people with information can influence the decisions making process are critical. These may include such things as valuing risk-taking, supporting failures (not punishing) that contribute to organizational and business learning and so on.

Special skills and knowledge are competencies that leaders bring about leadership, relationships and about themselves and how they learn, discover and create. There could be content specialties. These are often about functional specialties, management and/or such things as industry or enterprise history.

Credibility is about relationship competence. And it is about integrity-the relationship between what one says and what one does. If a leaders’ credibility is damaged, others cannot trust them readily. Low trust leads to delays. Delays impact time, energy, information flow and the decision-making processes. Furthermore, it takes a lot longer to rebuild credibility than it does to destroy it. Leaders work with others in a spirit of honesty and telling the truth. Leaders also know when to say,” I don’t know.”

The ways that these leader competencies are engaged will vary as business shifts and changes the demands for leadership. Nevertheless, the need to attend to each is ongoing.

> Russ Volckmann