The "Fundamental 4" Competencies for Leaders
Leaders at different levels of the organization face different challenges. But whether you’re an individual contributor, a first-time manager, a senior executive, or somewhere in between, there are 4 leadership skills you need to master.
These are timeless competencies needed by leaders throughout an organization, regardless of role, industry, or location. But the way you address each skill and what you need to learn or emphasize will shift as you move to higher levels and face new challenges.
The “Fundamental 4” competencies that every leader needs are self-awareness, communication, influence, and learning agility.
Hone Your Core Leadership Skills
1. Self-Awareness. This means simply understanding your strengths and weaknesses, but gaining self-awareness is anything but simple. Self-awareness is critical for ongoing and long-term effectiveness as a leader. Here are 4 sure-fire ways to boost your self-awareness.
2. Communication. It’s one of the most basic, across-the-board skills all of us need to develop and refine during our careers. “Communicating information and ideas” is consistently rated among the most important skills for leaders to be successful. Communication is also embedded in a number of other leadership competencies, including “leading employees,” “participative management” and “building and mending relationships.”
Writing clearly, speaking with clarity, and using active listening skills are all part of the equation. As you move up the career ladder, it expands to behaviors such as encouraging discussion, building trust, conveying vision and strategic intent, and pulling people along with you. That’s why communication is so important for leaders.
3. Influence. Developing your influencing skills helps you to communicate your vision or goals, align the efforts of others, and build commitment from people at all levels. Ultimately, influence allows you to get things done and achieve desirable outcomes.
Influence can vary greatly at different levels in the organization. Knowing your stakeholders, or audience, is key. Do you need to influence your boss? Your peers? Direct reports? Customers? Each stakeholder has special concerns and issues, so various groups and individuals will require different approaches for influencing. You’ll want to master the 3 ways to influence people.
Early in your career, or in individual contributor roles, influence is about working effectively with people over whom you have no authority. It requires being able to present logical and compelling arguments and engaging in give-and-take. In senior-level or executive roles, influence is focused more on steering long-range objectives, inspiration, and motivation.
4. Learning Agility. You need the ability to constantly be in a learning mode, to value and seek out the lessons of experience. To develop as leaders and as people, we need to be active learners. This involves recognizing when new behaviors, skills, or attitudes are needed and accepting responsibility for developing them.
Learning agility involves learning from mistakes, asking insightful questions, and being open to feedback. It includes learning a new skill quickly, taking advantage of opportunities to learn, and responding well to new situations. For senior leaders, learning agility is also about inspiring learning in others and creating a culture of learning throughout the organization. Developing your learning agility is how to enjoy a long career.
Grow Your Skills in Every Role
Each of the Fundamental 4 is a “continuous improvement” or “build-as-you-go” leadership competency. To be effective, you continue to develop, adapt, and strengthen them throughout your career. As you gain skill in one area, you’ll find there’s more to learn and practice in taking on new challenges and larger roles.
If you think you’ve “skipped over” any of the Fundamental 4 during your career, you won’t be as effective or fully develop your leadership potential. The good news is that with concerted effort, you can learn and improve skills you missed out on.
If you can identify gaps or weaknesses in your leadership journey, you have the potential to learn, grow, and change. With self-awareness, communication, influence, and learning agility as the core of your leadership development, you can be confident that you’re building for new opportunities and the next level of responsibility, because these 4 are core leadership skills needed for everyone and every career stage.
All of our core leadership development programs address the Fundamental 4, tailoring the information to each level’s leadership demands.
To learn more about how to develop the essential 4 traits discussed in this article, don’t miss Lead 4 Success: Learn the Essentials of True Leadership. This book focuses on how to grow skills that comprise the Fundamental 4. Use this book as a guide to develop and put into practice the skills that you need to demonstrate true leadership, no matter your role.
Our short guidebooks also offer quick insights and specific how-to advice that will help you with developing individual competencies and skills. Explore our comprehensive guidebook offerings, with titles on influence, learning agility, communication, and more.