In the Summer 2017 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, Eric J. McNulty argues against the perception of leaders as “sets of competencies.” He writes that any approach to leadership development that shoehorns human behavior into checkboxes can’t create lasting impact.
No argument here. So why did we publish Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching, a book structured on competencies?
We certainly don’t see leaders as sets of competencies. And we don’t see competencies as objects that leaders merely collect during their careers. Instead, this new book presents competencies as interrelated sets of knowledge, skills, and perspectives. Competencies can’t be separated from the circumstances in which they are practiced. Leaders can’t perform skillfully without a basic understanding of what kinds of actions are more likely than others to make a difference when situations are uncertain.
The key idea here is that a competency goes beyond an isolated behavior. Neither the Compass book, nor its online counterpart, CCL Compass, is a collectors’ guide to competencies. Rather, each is a kind of relational GPS — a tool leaders can use to plot their own position — or their team’s position — relative to the challenges and problems of a constantly shifting organizational environment.
Organizations use competency lists to benchmark, measure, and track developmental milestones among their leaders. That means organizations can identify the Compass book as one of many development tools at its disposal. The book’s competency-based structure lends itself to immediate and effective use. Understood and adopted broadly throughout the organization, competencies form the basis for a “common language” to describe, nurture, and sustain effective leadership behaviors.
Through research and practice, we have confirmed what kind of actions contribute to leadership — an inclusive process among organizational members marked by direction, alignment, and commitment. A competency serves leaders in broad areas such as strategic thinking, delegation, personal resilience, resolving conflict, leading upward, and more.
For example, think about what it takes to delegate well — the knowledge of who is capable of doing what work and who can be counted on; the skill to give clear direction to people with differing knowledge and abilities to process information; and the perspective that you don’t need to do everything yourself.
If you want your leadership to make a difference, then it’s important to know where you are, where you want to go, and have some sense of what it takes to get there. As CCL Senior Fellow David Campbell once put it, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.”
In order to figure out where you want to go and how to get there, it’d be a good idea to have a Compass handy.