Time to toss Leadership Competencies Part 2: Leadership Today

The second of a 3-part series on leadership development in a post-COVID world

Read part 1

In Part 1, Leadership’s Dark Ages, we suggested that the leadership competency model was developed and ‘perfected’ in an industrial age construct.  And that many organisations remain stuck in the paradigm where good leadership means efficient management.

At Lead with Humanity, we hold that:

‘Effective leadership comes in multiple shapes and forms’

Warren Bennis, Leadership Guru referred to in part 1 for his studies of leadership traits and competencies, wrote another book in 1989, ‘On Becoming a Leader’ where he had already moved his thinking forward significantly. He was very clear on the differences between management and leadership where each belonged.  We should not, however, confuse the two, and certainly not masquerade the one as a proxy of the other.

Let’s consider four of the key differences he highlighted:

  • ‘The manager is a copy – the leader is an original’

Leadership competencies by their very definition are ‘copies’. Leadership competencies don’t encourage originals and they certainly don’t give scope for self-expression.

  • ‘The manager is a classic good soldier – the leader is their own person’

Organisations generally seek efficiency managers who follow rules and procedures, not mavericks. Ambitious young talent mimics senior executives and follow the unspoken rules of how things are done.

  • ‘The manager’s focus is on systems and structure – the leader’s focus is on people’

As leaders, we may talk a good game about being people-focused, but very often, even the management of our people is driven by systems and structures – performance assessments, grading, job titles and promotional ladders. Potential talent is viewed as a resource pool not as individuals.

  • ‘The manager has a short term view – the leader has a long range perspective.’

Do we set up our talent’s performance indicators for the short-term or long-term? Do our incentive schemes focus on short term efficiency and profitability or longer-term strategies with a focus on values and goals.

Bennis tabled this 30 years ago. Yet still we cling to preordained behaviours that encourage us to ‘copy’, ‘be a classic good manager’ and to continue to work within archaic corporate systems and structures.  Whilst we might advocate having a long-term view, it frankly means little, when we are incentivized to deliver short term.

Sociologists have long told us that ‘all employees are smart – they act system rational.’

Let’s not kid ourselves. Corporates don’t really want to grow leaders.  Their interest is efficient, career building managers who are adept at following the rules and playing the right game. Any organisation where aspirant leaders are forced to comply with predefined competencies is an organization where leadership is conspicuous by its absence.

It is my belief, that in a post COVID-19 world, organisations will wake up and desperately crave talented people who innovate, who shift the needle and yes, who push the boundaries. Those organisations who have willfully chased out the real talent out by stifling potential with obsolete leadership competencies, will be sorely lacking.

My advice:  Toss the leadership competency model as fast, and as far, as possible.  Unshackle your talent from operating with restrictive ‘people systems and structures’ and let them fly.

Read part 3