Competency models, most of the time, are very culturally biased and can easily be dysfunctional.

You need to exercise a lot of critical thinking when assessing these lists; you will find that most of them fail miserably when submitted to critical questioning.

What you really want is a list of competencies that will be USEFUL to describe a leader’s behavior (or an aspiring leader’s behavior). Regarding every list, you need to ask:

  1. is this list complete enough? What items are missing?
  2. are the items truly distinct from each other? Which items might be redundant?
  3. Which items are culturally biased? How can we mitigate the bias?

Lists that are based on research tend to be culturally biased for two main reasons:

  1. doing research to come up with a list is an Anglo-Saxon culture bias, to begin with… In other cultures people might come up with concept-based lists rather than survey-based ones;
  2. all surveys depend on the survey sample: if your research was conducted in California, it will have a California culture bias; and so on.

It all boils down to describing what does a good leader DO… And to describe that objectively, completely, and with minimum bias. Easier said than done.

Edgar Schein, who I admire for his pragmatic wisdom, has said that what managers do, in essence, is what I translate in my own words as ANALYZE, DECIDE and MOBILISE. You may argue that a leader does things differently from a manager; I contend that, in practice, you need people who can both lead AND manage; or else, you get in trouble. I would say that what a leader does is VISUALIZE, HARMONIZE and INSPIRE. So the USEFUL competency list probably needs to include all six aspects, in some shape or form.

When scrutinizing your tentative lists for quality, ask yourself if they cater to these six aspects above, or do you need to add an item or two to the list. And are some items actually expressing the same thing? It might be useful to branch out the list in terms of items and sub-items: the “root” items can be kept to a minimum; the sub-items might add depth and nuances.

I’ve developed my own roadmap to leadership, which I have called “4-3-2-1 Leadership”. In summary, it means:

  1. being aware that people have four dimensions: rational, emotional, spiritual and physical; and that there is no hierarchy among these;
  2. seeking three “destinations” or qualities that an effective leader has: (1) the notion that “we are in this together”; (2) the ability to say “this is my vision”; and (3) honesty with oneself and with others;
  3. self-awareness in terms of seeking the response to two fundamental questions: who are you and what do you want?
  4. the willingness to go on the journey to become a leader; it is an on-going, never ending learning process, and you need to really want to engage in it.

I need to add that in order to say “this is my vision”, you need three things (or “sub-things”…): (1) a vision; (2) the courage to speak up; and (3) the communication skills to articulate your vision in an engaging way. Without these three competencies you are not a leader.

Most lists that I have come across fail the test of completeness: they miss some of the six aspects I first mentioned, and some of the “4-3-2-1” aspects. If I had to pick among the lists I’ve seen lately, I would choose one, by Global Leadership Architect, but with a couple of additions and one or two amendments.

  • Ethics/Values/Integrity and Trust
  • Rational analysis
  • Empathy/Customer Focus (ability to understand others)
  • Awareness of physical/mental links (in self and in others)
  • Vision communication/Directing others
  • Self-confidence/Drive for Results
  • Problem Solving/Priority Setting/Decision Quality (to bear the emotional consequences of your decisions)
  • Building Effective Teams
  • Self-awareness
  • Will to learn/change

What does your list look like?