Behavior-based competencies have been the foundation for developing leaders — a reasonable approach. Behaviors are the most tangible, visible and measurable aspects of leadership.

But what happens in a leader’s mind also plays an important role in effective leadership.

In a new white paper, Leadership Development Beyond Competencies: Moving to a Holistic Approach, CCL suggests it’s time we take a closer look at leaders’ inner experiences as well as visible actions.

Our complex inner worlds influence and are influenced by our behaviors and external outcomes. A more honest, holistic approach to leader development acknowledges the interplay between behaviors and actions and our thoughts, emotions, memory, and other internal elements.

In the CCL paper, Marian Ruderman, Cathleen Clerkin, and Carol Connolly draw on brain-based science and contemplative practices to add 3 additional elements to a model of leadership development:

  • Circuitry — the physical, chemical and neurological functioning of our bodies. Much of our behavior is influenced by the basic network of interconnected neurons in the brain and nervous system. This internal wiring affects how we develop as leaders. Self-awareness, the core of effective leadership, should also include awareness of the body’s neural circuitry.
  • Inner content — our raw emotions, gut reaction and inner dialogues. These inner experiences define our relationships with ourselves, as well as shape our beliefs and emotional reactions to thoughts and situations. Inner content includes the constant “mind chatter” going on in our heads, as well as the narratives we create in relationship to other people and the culture around us.
  • Conscious engagement — our ability to observe, modify and regulate mental processes. With awareness and practice, we can learn to direct much of our thoughts, emotions and inner processes. This is the area that has the most potential for development in leaders, as we can learn to choose a more mindful response to difficult situations and promote healthier physical and psychological responses in ourselves and others.

Increasingly, these ideas are moving from research or fringe interest toward actions that can be implemented broadly. From David Rock’s SCARF model to mindfulness practices at General Mills, Google, and Target, many people are starting to recognize that the mind is important and that cognitive health matters.

Janice Marturano, a former vice president and deputy general counsel at General Mills and author of Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership, says mindfulness is a powerful way for leaders to make a difference in their organizations and communities.

When asked what is driving the interest in mindfulness and cognitive health, Marturano said, “It’s not about mindfulness. It’s about the incredible challenge and complexity of being a leader today. People are sensing that we need more capabilities than we have right now.”

By taking a holistic approach to leadership development, CCL agrees, we have the opportunity to expand our capabilities, boost our effectiveness, and improve leadership outcomes.

What’s the Big Difference?

The traditional behavioral competencies approach and the “Beyond Competencies” approach are rooted in different assumptions:

Behavioral Competencies Assumptions Behaviors & Inner World Assumptions
  • Behaviors are a result of deliberate and conscious processing.
  • Leadership is the function of explicit behaviors.
  • Holding leaders accountable for certain behaviors helps them to become better leaders.
  • State of mind and body influence how leadership is enacted; behaviors can reflect automatic processing, emotions, thought patterns, past experiences, and level of self-awareness.
  • Leadership is a function of circuitry, inner content, conscious engagement and external behaviors. The four are inherently interconnected.
  • Helping leaders understand their inner world leads to increased self-awareness, adaptive behaviors and responses, and more effective leadership.

Read Leadership Development Beyond Competencies: Moving to a Holistic Approach for more insight into the limits of the behavioral competencies approach to leadership development, the 3 additional elements, valuable resources for more information — and the challenges involved in taking a new “inner worlds” approach.

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