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In this last installment of our four-part series on how to develop as a leader, we are looking at excelling at a few competencies. Now, the bad news is that nobody is good at everything. But, the good news is that you don’t have to be in order to be successful.
Several studies have clearly shown that the difference between the top performers and the rest of the on pack boils down to a handful of critical competencies. If you want to keep things simple, then you only need to focus on two things: people and results. In one study, 9% of those leaders with “people skills” as their key strength were in the top 10% of leaders. If “drive for results” was the key strength, then 13% of those leaders were in the top 10%. But, for those rare individuals who have both a strong people focus and results orientation, then 66% of those leaders were rated in the top 10% of leadership performance.
In other research by Korn/Ferry-Lominger, they found that 4 managers and executives who were superior performers (top 15%) had only eight competencies in common that differentiated them from the rest of the pack. These eight competencies are: Comfort around Higher Management, Personal Learning, Listening, Learning on the Fly, Drive for Results, Functional/Technical Skills, Process Management and Decision Quality. So let’s take each one of these in turn to see why they are important.
Comfort around Higher Management: This competency is important on several levels. First, if you are going to be part of the senior management team one day, you need to be confident around them. Being able to assert yourself, speak articulately and in their language helps you to be viewed as someone who knows what you are talking about. By understanding how senior management thinks and works, you will be better able to influence them and will also be seen as credible.
Personal Learning is being tuned in to the need to change and then adapting one’s behavior to fit the situation. It may be interpersonal behavior or managerial behaviors, but those high in personal learning, pay attention to others’ reactions, seek out feedback and then adjust and adapt to be effective.
Listening is one of the competencies that seems like it should be easy to do, yet the research shows that most managers and executives are only somewhat skilled at it. In my own work coaching executives and delivering hundreds of Voices 360-degree feedbacks, I find listening skills to be situational. Sure, you have people at both ends of the spectrum, the great listeners and the lousy ones, but most people are more toward the middle. They listen sometimes and to some people, but just not consistently. Listening is obviously important for many reasons and we have seen many executives derail their careers or their companies by Work not listening to others. Listing all the reasons why listening is important could take up several blog posts and even a book or two, but something crucial that many don’t think about is that listening can curb arrogance. Listening also helps when individuals overuse competencies. Take, for example, the executive who overuses Intellectual Horsepower and Action-Oriented. They likely are seen as being an intellectual bully and running over people. While you are not going to coach this person to “be less smart” or “get less done,” you could encourage them to listen more, which would help compensate for the overuse of these other competencies.
Learning on the Fly is the engine of personal growth. As a single competency, it is most akin to the overall construct of Learning Agility. Being a versatile and agile learner is one of the keys to being a high potential. I will be writing about Learning Agility and high potentials in upcoming blogs, so stay tuned.
Drive for Results is the engine of performance. Business is about getting the right things done and achieving results. Those who are consistently viewed as top performers get the rewards of pay and promotion.
It is certainly interesting that Functional/Technical Skills makes this list. Most research shows that the higher up you go in an organization, the less functional and technical skills matter. So why do functional/technical skills show up consistently in top performers? I think this goes back to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. Gaining that early career experience and expertise allows people to think through problems differently, even if they are not using that specific expertise to solve problems.
Process Management is the ability to move a project from A to Z. Those high in this competency are skilled at figuring out the processes necessary to get things done. They rally people, resources and materials to achieve results others can’t, often by finding Transitions synergies. One could certainly argue that this is a fundamental attribute of effective managers.
Finally, we come to Decision Quality. To me, this is pretty much a no-brainer. The ability to use logic to solve problems and come up with sound solutions is a hallmark of effective leaders. While leaders do not need to make all the decisions themselves, nor should they, the ones they do make certainly need to be the right ones.
While this is certainly not meant to be a comprehensive list of all competencies that are important to Jaleas be a successful manager or executive, it certainly is not a bad place to start. Obviously things such as Strategic Agility, Dealing with Ambiguity and others are also very important for success as an executive. But, these are the ones the research indicates differentiate the best from the rest of the pack.
So to summarize these last four blog posts, the four things important to develop as a leader are:
My next series is going to be about identifying high potentials in your Self-Awareness organization and the role of learning agility.