Great leadership is based on a combination of both strong competencies and excellent character. The best skills without the positive character traits leaves people cold. Great skills alone can obtain results for the short term but a stressful or highly emotional situation draws out true character and, if that character is weak, will cause followers to not trust and follow. . Great character traits without the skills can make a leader likeable but people don’t see a benefit for the future. Without strong leadership skills, people don’t see enough substance to develop long-term results.
Leadership competency or skills include such things as the ability to communicate, manage change, create a vision, read and understand people, influence others, and negotiate effectively. It includes the ability to digest information and think strategically. Relevant technical and functional skills are important such as scientific knowledge or a strong financial background. Competencies include decision-making and the ability to organize and manage. Competencies in the area of communication include the ability to write or speak clearly and convincingly, the ability to teach, and the ability to organize and manage meetings.
Competencies are learned skills. We develop them through experience, following an example or model, or some education process. This might be from a book or seminar. In a sense, competencies can be viewed as tools in a toolbox.
While competencies are what a person knows or is capable of doing, character is who we are. Character can be defined as the sum of virtues, values and traits. The character of a strong, effective leader includes such traits and virtues as integrity, honesty, confidence, humility, authenticity, passion, selflessness, ethical, and respect for others. Character is built into our lives through our beliefs and the practice of those beliefs over time.
In an effective leader competency and character flow together. It may be difficult at times to differentiate whether actions are based on competency or character. On the other hand, when a person is attempting to lead without a base of both competency and character, it can be both obvious and ineffective. Some further examples of both one-sided and blended actions are shown below.
- A person with good communication skills can craft a document that presents the facts clearly. A leader with both communication skills and a respect for others presents the facts clearly and in a manner that values the audience and considers the impact and likely emotions of the reader.
- A person with meeting management skills can organize and conduct an efficient meeting. A leader with both competency and character can conduct a meeting where the attendees feel a part of the process and that their input is valued.
- A person with the ability to teach others can present information clearly when asked to do so. A leader with both competency and character looks for teaching opportunities in every interaction.
Evaluating and building our competencies can be straight-forward. What skills do we have and where do I need to build more or deeper skills? Evaluating and building our character requires a deeper look and a greater effort as we often actually need to change who we are as we strengthen our character.
Where do you need to grow and what is your plan for doing so?