Competencies for Leadership: A challenging concept to define.

Competencies for Leadership: A challenging concept to define.

Leadership is one of the most challenging concepts to define, which is why it continues to be widely studied. We can find hundreds of books that try to explain it from the author’s perspective, and many times we are confused by what seems contradictory concepts. Leadership is difficult to define because it is highly variable and can be viewed from different perspectives; furthermore, it is continuously evolving and dependent on context. The behaviors that define and make someone a leader in one context may not work in another.

So how can I strengthen my leadership skills? You can use an approach that is transversal to all leadership types; in other words, a method that allows you to be flexible and adapt to circumstances but recognizing what elements may or may not be significant. My proposal, during the last two decades training leaders, has been to use the competency model. In my opinion, we can strengthen ourselves as leaders by recognizing what “competencies” a leader requires and then analyzing and deciding which of those competencies I should use or bring to light according to the context in which I find myself. If I am a technician, a professional, a boss, or an entrepreneur, there will be skills that I need to execute my activities skillfully.

This model is born from studies carried out with people who had achieved much higher performance and contrasting them with other individuals who had a mediocre performance. The comparison made it possible to identify which behaviors were associated with high levels of success and were studied to determine characteristics, knowledge, abilities, skills, attitudes, and aptitudes. It is essential to mention that it is not based on age, gender, education, race, ethnicity, or physical or contextual traits, but on people. The position is not studied, but the person who occupies it.

The studies carried out on the competencies required to occupy management positions found groups of competencies, which make up models and are useful for us to self-evaluate and serve as guides. As we mentioned above, the contexts change. Collaborators that I am in charge of can change.  I can change the line of business or activity in the company. However, the constant is that there will always be a set of competencies expected of the leader, expressed in terms of the expected behaviors.

Leader competency models consist of 25 to 35 competencies. There are several of them. It is not the subject of this blog to explain each model, but to open a path for you to develop your leadership by applying these principles. Therefore, in this article, we will begin by presenting the Spencer & Spencer model, which, in my opinion, is aligned to the current leadership. Considering that by knowing the structure and characteristics of the model, you will be able to self-evaluate and use this information to evaluate and help develop the other leaders who accompany you on your professional or business path.

The competencies are grouped according to a theme that relates them:

  • Achievement and action skills: achievement orientation, concern for order and quality, initiative, search for information.

  • Help and service skills: interpersonal understanding, customer orientation.

  • Impact and influence skills: impact and influence skills themselves, organizational knowledge, relationship building (the network of contacts).

  • Managerial competencies: development of others, ability to lead (assertiveness and positional use of power), teamwork/cooperation, and team leadership.

  • Cognitive skills: analytical thinking, conceptual thinking, and professionalism or expert management.

  • Personal effectiveness skills: self-control, self-confidence, and flexibility.

  • Other competencies (authors left out of the groups mentioned above): disregard for rejection, integrity, fun at work, adequate self-evaluation, affiliative interest, communication, written communication, vision, and teaching style.

There are no competencies more critical than others. All are related, and some are the basis for the development of others. Possibly, you ask yourself, what is each one of them? How is it observed in reality? What behaviors of the leader show that he/she possesses the competency? How can I do to develop them? In the following articles on this blog, we will present them in detail and provide recommendations to strengthen them.

Competencies are traits that underlie behavior. They are below it, and although our personality supports them, there is a wide margin for us to develop them. We have to observe what context we are in, our goals, and have a personal commitment. To acquire or strengthen skills and new behaviors, it is a fundamental requirement to want to do so.

If you would like more information on the subject or wish to apply it to your business, please contact us: or 956-874-2908.

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