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Competencies Leadership Career Pathing Competency-based Management

Turn leadership models into action plans with competencies

By HRSG Team on January, 13 2023

Article table of contents (jump to section):

  1. Modeling successful leadership
  2. The limits of the model
  3. The competency connection
  4. A blueprint for leadership success

Choosing a leadership model is an important first step in aligning your leaders with the organization’s vision, mission, and culture. The next step is to make that model actionable using competencies.

Leadership models are helpful tools for exploring different leadership styles and choosing the one that fits your organizational culture best. But while leadership models capture the essence of a specific leadership approach, they don't provide the level of detail required to identify, evaluate, and develop leaders effectively.

In this blog post, we'll look at how HR managers can use competencies to turn high-level leadership models into detailed profiles that can drive leadership identification, evaluation, and development activities.


Modeling successful leadership

There are now more than a dozen widely recognized leadership models, each of which represents a very different approach to leading the organization and its employees. No model is better or worse than another. Each one brings specific advantages that may or may not align with your organization's unique culture, business goals, and market realities.

These models are also flexible and can be combined to create a blended model that aligns more closely to your unique context and needs. Leadership models are big-picture descriptors that capture the essence of a leader's focus and approach.

Here are a few examples of well-known leadership models and the types of organizations that may benefit from this type of leadership.

Transformational leaders

Encourage, inspire, and motivate employees to innovate and create change.

May be a fit for... high-growth organizations

Servant leaders

Focus primarily on the growth and well-being of people and communities.

May be a fit for... customer-centric organizations

Transactional leaders

Set targets, define expectations, and reliably reward employees who meet them.

May be a fit for... stable, hierarchical companies

Participative leaders

Encourage input and turn collective wisdom into organizational value.

May be a fit for... team-based, low-pressure environments

Visionary leaders

Understand the big picture and communicate it in a way that inspires employees.

May be a fit for... market innovators

Human-centric leaders

Foster employee self-expression and well-being, and value employees as unique individuals.

May be a fit for... retention-focused organizations


The limits of the model

Choosing the right leadership model for your organization is an important first step, but it's not the only step. A leadership model is a helpful tool, but it lacks specific details that leaders need to guide their behaviors.

Let's take the example of the transformational leadership model. A leader who is tasked with embodying this model knows that they need to "encourage, inspire, and motivate employees to innovate and create change." But how are they expected to do that? What are the behaviors most likely to enable them to reach employees effectively and spark positive change? Even for experienced leaders, living up to this expectation can be a tall order without further direction and support.


The competency connection

Competencies are a critical connection point between conceptual leadership models and their practical applications. Competencies translate the leadership model into a set of specific, observable, measurable behaviors that leaders need to perform on the job. 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 leadership behaviors that support the organizational culture and show leaders the path to optimal performance.

Competencies are designed to be used throughout the talent lifecycle, so they can guide the identification, evaluation, development, and deployment of leadership talent.

Using the example of the transformational leadership model, the three competencies that most closely align to that model are: "inspiring others," "leading change," and "nurturing innovation." You can see a sample of the competency for "inspiring others" here. Note the depth of detail and the five progressive levels of proficiency, which provide specific behaviors for leaders to demonstrate and a clear path to improvement.

Selecting the competencies that align with your leadership model can be done in-house if your HR team includes I-O psychologists or competency specialists who are familiar with the mapping and profiling process. If you don’t have this expertise on staff, you can choose to hire a competency expert to guide your team through the process or invest in a technology platform that automates the mapping process.


A blueprint for leadership success

Research shows that when leaders are effective, it has a measurable impact on important aspects of organizational performance, including employee and customer loyalty, and organizational innovation and revenue.

Leadership competencies can help you translate powerful leadership ideals into a set of behaviors that crystallize the model and provide a practical blueprint for success.

To learn more about defining effective, values-driven leadership using competencies, download "Defining and Supporting Leadership with Competencies," the latest eBook from HRSG.