Leadership is the engine that makes everything work within an organization, which makes focusing on leadership competencies crucial to building a successful business. Making decisions, driving change, inspiring and motivating their team members are some of the activities that leaders do to help organizations achieve their strategic goals. Furthermore, a great leader’s worth is not measured by their individual accomplishments but instead by the team they lead. As such, leaders are required to develop leadership competencies that help them deliver superior results.

Key Takeaways:

  • Building leadership skills starts with evaluating your leadership competencies.
  • Great performances amongst teams and in organizations are the result of exceptional leadership abilities and competencies.
  • Examples of leadership competencies include decision making, social intelligence, self-awareness, learning agility and managing conflicts.
  • Leadership competencies model originated from the work of McClelland in the 1960’s and was further developed by the American Association of Management. Other models that were developed some years after are Boyatzis and Sparrow leadership models.
  • Ways to develop leadership competencies include coaching, mentoring, learning, building social skills and searching out opportunities for self-improvement. 


What are Leadership Competencies?

Leadership competencies are the behaviors, knowledge, skills, and abilities that a leader possesses or has developed that aid in contributing to better performance. Possessing leadership competencies elevates a team’s trust, confidence and commitment to the leader.

Examples of Leadership Competencies:


A visionary leader is one who has a clear vision and can inspire followers to become passionate about their vision. Furthermore, visioning is forming an image in the mind that makes it easier to set goals, plan, and solve problems in order to guide the organizations into the future.

Social Intelligence

The capacity to comprehend how others behave is referred to as social intelligence. By exposing oneself to a variety of social contexts to gain different social perspectives it helps to develop this competency. In addition, the presence of social intelligence is a key indicator of a successful leader because it requires having a deep awareness of social dynamics and the capacity to function well within them. 

Managing Conflict

A setting where enhanced productivity can flourish becomes possible when a person is able to support other leaders or team members in preventing, resolving, or decreasing conflicts. Things like, negotiation, tact, mediation, and compromise are all skills that can be used to resolve conflicts. As such, everyone in an organization stands to benefit when a leader has conflict management abilities. 

Making Decisions

Every leader, whether they are in top or middle management, or in charge of a small team, will frequently be in charge of making decisions. Consequently, a good leader is one who can select a workable choice from a variety of options. In addition, rather than feeling stuck when faced with a difficult choice, they are able to trust their guts or intuition.

Learning Agility

The business environment changes quickly and frequently, making learning agility crucial. Any leader who is unable to adapt to the changes occurring in the complex business environment will not be able to offer the required knowledge and resources to help their organization or team members get through the difficulties they are facing. A great leader is one who is capable of seeking out opportunities for professional and personal growth through learning, relearning, and unlearning. Moreover, they can develop their capabilities through their learning experiences. Additionally, they aid and promote the growth of their co-workers and subordinates.


An essential quality for effective leadership is self-awareness. Leaders that are self-aware understand their own strengths and flaws. Effective leaders are not hesitant to call on the expertise of others in areas where they lack the necessary skills and they also take care of their own well-being and the well-being of those they lead. As such, leaders understand the importance of well-being in achieving peak performance. Other leadership competencies worth noting are visionary skills, effective communication, people management, and inclusiveness.

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Leadership Competency Model

According to Dr. Annete Towler on CQ Net (a management resource provider) the leadership competency model originated from the work of McClelland in the 1960’s. “This first step towards leadership competencies was further augmented by the American Management Association’s push in the 1980s to distinguish effective from ineffective management in behavioral and performance terms,” writes Dr. Towler. Dr. Towler further states that the Boyatzis and Sparrow leadership models were developed afterwards. 

Boyatzis Leadership Model (1982)

The Boyatzis model classified 19 leadership competencies into five groups stated below:

  • Goal and Action Management
  • Leadership
  • Human Resource Management
  • Focus on Others
  • Directing Subordinates
Sparrow’s Leadership Competency Model

Sparrow’s model was developed in 1977. Leadership competencies were identified in Sparrow’s model in both the organizational and individual levels. Organizational competencies, according to Sparrow’s model, are formed from characteristics that arise from the activities of individuals within the company.

Leadership Competency Today

According to Dr. Towler, leadership competencies are no longer defined by the skills that leader’s possess in modern leadership frameworks. Instead, it takes into account how organizational activity complexities can either increase or decrease the efficacy of leadership competencies.

How to Develop Leadership Competencies: 
  • Coaching and mentoring can help a person build skills in areas like conflict management, active listening, visioning, etc.
  • Learning more about one’s industry, products, and team can help the person deepen their expertise in core areas.
  • Social intelligence is expanded when a person exposes themselves to a variety of social circumstances. This could be achieved through becoming part of professional groups within and outside of their industry, attending and networking at meetups, conferences, and workshops, and nurturing personal relationships.
  • Look for opportunities to take on tasks or assignments that stretch a person beyond their comfort zone. Aspire for growth and also support the growth of others on one’s team. “When leaders show a commitment to our growth, the same primal emotions are tapped. Employees are motivated to reciprocate, expressing their gratitude or loyalty by going the extra mile.writes leadership development consultant, Sunnie Giles.

Because of the great importance leadership plays in organizations, developing leadership competencies is necessary to help a person become a valuable individual to their team and organization.

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