Competency-based leadership development

October 29, 2015 Sarah Beckett

A leader’s transformational competencies—their ability to energize and inspire those around them—are an integral part of their value to the organization. A great leader acts as both a catalyst and a compass, igniting transformative performance across the organization and ensuring that everyone sees the way forward.

Identifying the people who possess those vital qualities and nurturing their unique potential is essential to sustainable success for the organization. But how do you measure things like inspiration, vision, and compassion?

Clearly defined leadership competencies give you the tools you need to translate these qualities into observable and measurable behaviors, bringing increased consistency, clarity, and rigor to the process of identifying and nurturing leaders. In simple terms, competencies define the behaviors required to achieve success in a specific role.

When applied to the leadership role, they help to define the ideal behaviors, identify areas for further development, and help leaders see the path to optimal performance. Competency-based management for leaders offers a blueprint for success that anyone can see and understand—including those tasked with identifying the leaders of tomorrow and those to be groomed for leadership roles.

It’s not enough to identify leadership competencies—organizations must also help their people actually develop and demonstrate those competencies. And just as the business environment has shifted, so, too, has the learning environment. The new skills required of leaders aren’t always the kind learned in a traditional classroom setting, where participants passively take in information. Instead, classroom learning needs to be supplemented with other development programs.

Research has shown that 70 percent of learning takes place as a result of practice and on-the-job experience, so it’s essential to provide more interactive, hands-on approaches. Examples include:

  • Job rotations, which allow leaders to experience other roles, train across departments, and become more knowledgeable of organization-wide operations.
  • Individual coaching and mentoring, where participants are paired with more experienced leaders who provide guidance, offer support, and share knowledge.
  • Group coaching and networking, so participants can learn from one another and make valuable connections.
  • Action learning, where leaders have the chance to work and learn together on teams by tackling real issues (either short- or long-term cases or projects) and reflecting on their actions.
  • eLearning, which allows leaders to learn at their own pace and according to their own schedules.
  • Simulations, where leaders can safely practice the competencies they’re learning.

In addition to incorporating a wider range of learning options, today’s learning environment prioritizes self-directed growth. Leaders must take responsibility for and play an active role in the process of building new competencies. They have to be accountable to themselves and the organization and own their growth. And they need to understand which techniques, approaches, and learning environments work best for them.

When learning options are mapped to competencies and proficiency levels, competencies offer a strong foundation for self-directed learning and development. Leaders can clearly see the learning resources that can help them to get where they need to go, and they have the freedom to choose the development path that fits them best.

Want to learn more?

Download HRSG’s new ebook, How to develop transformational leaders using competencies,  to learn how organizations can identify and nurture those individuals who have the capacity to inspire those around them and act as a catalyst for innovation and creativity.


Want to learn more about using competencies? Get started with our Competency Toolkit:

Download your Competency Toolkit using the form below.



Post last updated: June 27, 2019.

About the Author

Sarah Beckett

Sarah is an experienced marketer with over 12 years experience. She drives HRSG brand marketing strategy and the implementation of all related programs.

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