In our series, Raising Up Leaders, we have discussed that 51%+ of any great leader’s job is to develop new leaders. This process of raising up leaders is VITAL to any organization’s long-term success.


In the previous article, we looked at the importance of possessing charisma as a key to relating to people in order to influence them. While character is ultimately the bedrock upon which all good leadership is built, without charisma, people are not going to be brought along to join the vision. Today, we will discuss competence.


Competence is the ability to do something successfully or efficiently. It is typically thought of as the technical skill set. Business Dictionary extends the definition to “A cluster of related abilities, commitments, knowledge, and skills that enable a person (or an organization) to act effectively in a job or situation.”

Defining the Needed Competencies

In order to assess whether a potential leader has the competency needed for the role for which he or she is ultimately being considered, these competencies must be clearly defined. Without these clear definitions, there is no real target or yardstick by which to measure. Some leaders do this by “gut intuition,” but they are really operating from a set of competencies that are merely unwritten. The danger in this is that no one else in the organization can help the leader assess potential leaders because others can’t typically tap into the leader’s “assessment powers.” Documenting competencies allows for clearly assessing leadership potential and helping the prime leader identify future leaders.

Why Having Clear Competencies Is Important

Defining which competencies are necessary for success in your organization can help you do the following:

  • Ensure that your staff demonstrates sufficient expertise.
  • Recruit and select new staff more effectively.
  • Evaluate performance more effectively.
  • Identify skill and competency gaps more efficiently.
  • Provide more customized training and professional development.
  • Plan sufficiently for succession.
  • Make change management processes work more efficiently.

How To Write a Competency

Here is a method to ensure each competency is written for maximum organizational benefit.

  1. Begin with a present tense action verb. (Example: Convert meters to points and inches.)
  2. Each action verb requires an object. (Example: Identify bacteria, fungi, and parasites.) (Verb followed by object)
  3. Each competency is measurable and/or observable. (Example: Describe general methods of child study by describing such procedures as longitudinal study, case study and correlational study.)
  4. Each competency is based on performance. (Example: Evaluate literacy genre from a historical perspective by comparing and contrasting the literary works in the 19th Century.)
  5. Do not use evaluative or relative adjectives. (Do not use words like good, effective, appropriate.)
  6. Do not use evaluative or relative adverbs. (Do not use words like quickly, slowly, immediately.)
  7. Do not use qualifying phrases. (Do not use a phrase such as “Write with greater confidence.”)
  8. Say what you mean, using only necessary words.                        

(Source: based upon a revision of Bloom, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Handbook I; Dave, Developing and Writing Behavioral Objectives; and Krathwohl, Bloom, and Masia, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Handbook II.)

Once these competencies are clearly defined, they can be used to train and to assess the progress of potential leaders to see what growth is present and where training is needed.

What Competencies Are Needed By the Potential Leader?

This is tough to define, as they are very role specific (unlike character and charisma, which are much more universal.) Often, the best approach to developing a list of competencies is to start with a general list, and then customize it to your particular culture.

In general, business competencies fall under the following realms:

  • business
  • finance
  • management
  • leadership
  • sales & marketing
  • communication skills
  • negotiation
  • organizing
  • foreign languages
  • teaching / training / coaching
  • project management
  • customer relationship management
  • writing (project /research reports, articles)
  • legislation
  • foreign cultures
  • patents
  • quality

A great strategy in developing a competency list is to identify your current high-performing leaders and involve them in outlining competencies, since they are utilizing these skills daily. Don’t let HR solely develop the competency list, as they don't always know what each job actually involves. To fully understand a role, you have to go to the source – the person doing the job – as well as getting a variety of other inputs into what makes someone successful in that job.

Here Are Some Example Core Competencies:

  • Acts to align own unit's goals with the strategic direction of the business.
  • Ensures that everyone understands and identifies with the unit's mission.
  • Measures and evaluates individual team member’s achievement of competencies.
  • Shares his/her expertise with others.
  • Expresses confidence in the ability of others to be successful.
  • Encourages groups to resolve problems on their own; avoids prescribing a solution.
  • Develops less expensive ways to produce equal results.
  • Provides behaviorally specific feedback to others.

The list can go on and on, but keep the most important competencies in the forefront of every potential leader and leadership trainer’s mind. Note: These are different than goals. Goals can be competency-centered and/or output-centered, such as sales numbers met, contacts made, deals closed. Goals are often subsets of competencies. Consider the following example:

A telephone representative's annual goal might be increasing the number of customer phone calls answered per day by 5 percent. This is not a behavioral objective or a global competency. However, it might be listed in a representative's evaluation under the competency of "customer service" and under the behavioral objective of "answering telephone calls at a minimum level of call volume."

Help With Measuring Competency

A tool IS available to help you measure influence-related competencies. The Keller Influence Indicator® (KII®) provides a measure of character, charisma and competence needed for strong influence.

While there are numerous specific competencies for each role, there are some universal competencies that must be possessed by all leaders in order to exert influence. The KII® allows you to clearly measure these and track a potential leader’s progress of development.

Give the Keller Influence Indicator® to potential leaders and discover where they need to grow in terms of character, charisma and competence as they seek to influence others. A sample KII® report is available here. A complimentary trial version of the KII® is available for you and your team to take.

In the next article in this series on Raising Up Leaders, we’ll look at how to develop competence, stacking it like a roof on the foundation of character and the walls of charisma.


Search form

From regional manager to international executive with quadruple the pay, Karen Keller’s unique blueprint carefully outlined the step-by-step process for creating high-impact influence and let me know when I was being influenced in a way that didn’t serve me.
Lloyd Moore
Global Director Supplier Quality & Development - Lear Corporation – South Carolina