• Published June 16, 2022
  • 4 Minute Read

The Most Important Leadership Competencies

Businessman leading meeting with clients and colleagues in office conference room discussing leadership competencies

Which Leadership Competencies Are Most Needed to Succeed?

For decades, we’ve studied the on-the-job experiences that teach critical lessons of leadership. Our researchers have examined how successful managers learn, grow, and change through experiences in their careers.

The critical lessons that successful managers learned from their experiences are represented in key leadership competencies that can be measured, using tools like our widely-recognized Benchmarks® for Managers™ assessment, part of our suite of Benchmarks® 360 assessments.

In addition to providing feedback to help identify strengths and development needs, our Benchmarks assessments do what their name suggests by providing leaders with a benchmark of how they’re doing, as compared to a meaningful norm group. (We’re able to provide this insight because we have one of the largest leadership research databases in the world.)

Our Benchmarks assessments are statistically reliable, valid, and comprehensive 360-degree feedback instruments for evaluating leadership competencies, and they also provide actionable insights to help leaders build on these competencies to grow even more.

So, based on our decades of research with Benchmarks® for Managers™, we have identified the 16 key leadership competencies that are most critical for mid- to upper-level manager success, and the 5 biggest potential problems that are most likely to stall or derail an otherwise promising career.

The 16 Most Important Leadership Competencies

The Most Important Leadership Competencies for Those Leading the Organization

  1. Strategic Perspective: Understands the viewpoint of higher management and effectively analyzes complex problems
  2. Being a Quick Study: Quickly masters new technical and business knowledge
  3. Decisiveness: Prefers quick and approximate actions in many management situations
  4. Change Management: Uses effective strategies to facilitate organizational change initiatives and overcome resistance to change

The Most Important Leadership Competencies for Those Leading Others

  1. Leading Employees: Attracts, motivates, and develops employees
  2. Confronting Problem Employees: Acts decisively and with fairness when dealing with problem employees
  3. Participative Management: Involves others, listens, and builds commitment
  4. Building Collaborative Relationships: Builds productive working relationships with coworkers and external parties
  5. Compassion and Sensitivity: Shows genuine interest in others and sensitivity to employees’ needs
  6. Putting People at Ease: Displays warmth and a good sense of humor
  7. Respect for Differences: Values people of different backgrounds, cultures, or demographics

The Most Important Leadership Competencies for Leading Yourself

  1. Taking Initiative: Takes charge and capitalizes on opportunities
  2. Composure: Demonstrates self-control in difficult situations
  3. Work-Life Balance: Balances work priorities with personal life
  4. Self-Awareness: Has an accurate picture of strengths and weaknesses and is willing to improve
  5. Career Management: Uses effective career management tactics, including mentoring, professional relationships, and feedback channels

A Lack of Leadership Competencies Problems Can Stall a Career

Avoid These 5 Derailers

  1. Problems With Interpersonal Relationships: Difficulties in developing good working relationships with others
  2. Difficulty Building and Leading Teams: Difficulties in selecting and motivating a team
  3. Difficulty Changing or Adapting: Resistant to change, learning from mistakes, and developing
  4. Failure to Meet Business Objectives: Difficulties in following up on promises and completing a job
  5. Too Narrow a Functional Orientation: Lacks depth to manage outside of current function

Learn more about the 5 potential career derailers and how to avoid them.

Benchmark Your Skills Against The Leadership Competencies Uncovered in Our Research

So, how do you know how you rate when it comes to your own level of leadership competencies?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a clear picture of your strengths, weaknesses, and areas to improve? What could you learn to improve your future prospects?

Using a tool like our our suite of Benchmarks® 360 assessments, you can get in-depth feedback from a range of people who know your work — superiors, peers, direct reports, clients, suppliers — to give you a clearer picture of yourself.

By asking people all around you to offer feedback, you gain a 360-degree view of your strengths and weaknesses, giving you a benchmark for where you are now in the key leadership competencies and a starting point for improving your effectiveness in the future.

Assess Your Leadership Competencies, Then Create Your Developmental Goals

Just as important as assessing your current skill level is setting goals. We’ve found that leaders who have received 360-degree feedback on their leadership competencies have a clear sense of direction and are ready to take action, but you may need some help understanding what your 360 results really mean.

If your HR or training department is using a 360 feedback tool in conjunction with coaching sessions, workshops, or leadership development programs, you’ll be able to measure where you stand on these most critical leadership competencies — and get tips on how to take charge of your own development.

But if 360 feedback isn’t in your future anytime soon, you still have many options to develop these leadership competencies, steer development for yourself, and support others to do the same. You can seek out informal feedback, look for a mentor or coach, or ask for more learning opportunities at work. You may also want to explore our research-based leadership books to take charge of your own learning and growth.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Learn more about Benchmarks®, our suite of 360 feedback assessments, to measure critical leadership competencies for yourself or your team, as the starting point for any development initiative.

  • Published June 16, 2022
  • 4 Minute Read

Written by

Leading Effectively Staff
Leading Effectively Staff

This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

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About CCL

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL)® is a top-ranked, global, nonprofit provider of leadership development and a pioneer in the field of global leadership research. We know from experience how transformative remarkable leaders really can be.

Over the past 50 years, we’ve worked with organizations of all sizes from around the world, including more than 2/3 of the Fortune 1000. Our hands-on development solutions are evidence-based and steeped in our work with hundreds of thousands of leaders at all levels.