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How can organisations get their hands-on good leaders?

There are three ways of doing this.
1. Superior talent is up to eight times more productive

Firstly, recruit in leaders, sometimes called in-sourcing the open talent market. This requires the company to run a typical recruitment process. First, they need to define their need, which is effectively to clarify which competencies they are looking for and in what combination. Then they must publish the vacancy and hope that their employee value proposition is good enough to attract a strong, talented set of leaders in the job market. Lastly, they will assess and select a successful applicant into the position.

The benefits of this approach are that the company gets new thinking and ideas because the leader comes from outside the business, and so brings ‘fresh blood’ into the organisation. The downside of this approach is that the organisation runs the risk of making a recruitment error, and they incur the cost of perhaps paying a premium for the talent from the open market.

2. Headhunting or poaching from industry

Another way to attain leadership competence is for it to be ‘stolen’ from other competitive companies – this is called headhunting or poaching . Good leadership is hard to find and so if a strong leader is identified in another company, he or she will be considered talent and other organisations may try to lure them into a new role at their organisation. Headhunting is common, particularly within industry, and most especially in highly specialised industries where there are not a lot of people who understand the complexities and dynamics of the markets.

3. Growing your own leader

Lastly and most commonly, companies are now working towards ‘growing’ their own leaders. This means developing, training, and preparing people who already work for them to be promoted into leadership positions.

This is where the offerings of the leadership development space come into play because their proposition is that by developing the relevant competencies, you can create a pipeline of people who are skilled, able, and ready to fulfil key leadership roles – provided you have invested in their development.

The process for building leadership capability involves:

a. The identification of employees with leadership potential as part of talent management discussion.

b. Facilitating those individuals through a specialised, focused leadership programme with a particular aim of growing leadership skill and competence in a rapid way (coaching could be a way of doing this).

c. Assessing the readiness for leadership over time.

So this brings us to the question of can leadership be taught?

The idea of building internal leadership competence forces us to ask the fundamental question that has perplexed organisational psychologists for a long time: can leadership be taught? Is it something that an individual is inherently born with, or is it something that develops through learning and experience?  

Specialists in leadership development would say that leadership comes from nurture i.e., the environmental factors that shape a person and force them to develop certain skills. Without this foundational belief, it would make little sense for companies to spend money on training, coaching or experiential programmes for their leaders or soon-to-be leaders.

Either way you look at it, leadership is in short supply in the labour force, and so many organisations are now being very deliberate and clear about their leadership capability strategy – to make sure they are not caught without a good pipeline of talented and effective leaders.

Leadership competencies

A competency is a set of relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities to successfully perform a specific task. It articulates what someone must be able to do to be successful in the job. Most importantly, it describes that in behavioural terms, so that people know what competence in that job actually looks like.

A leadership competency is the same as any other competency, except that it outlines the knowledge, skill, or ability that a leader must have to perform in a leadership role. By nature, it will not be technical i.e. not about the content or subject matter of the job, but rather it will focus on what it takes to be an effective leader.

A leadership competency model is a framework that organises and levels a set of competencies that are relevant to the leadership roles within a company. Effectively it allocates specific combinations of competencies to those roles and determines the level to which the incumbent in the leadership job must demonstrate those competencies.

Most progressive organisations today are using leadership competency models to outline the key skills and behaviours they want to see in their supervisors, managers, and executives – anyone in a leadership position.

Leadership competency models provide a structured framework for defining and developing those behaviours that have the biggest impact on an organisation’s performance. Used effectively, they become a roadmap to dramatically higher leadership effectiveness because they create a blueprint for what good leadership in the organisation looks like. This helps leaders clarify what is expected from them and they can then modify their behaviour to meet the standard.

Typical leadership competencies

There is not a set recipe for effective leadership and the context of the specific organisation makes a big difference. For example, to lead a start-up business with a small group of employees requires a very different set of abilities for the leader, as compared to leading a large, well-established corporate.

Alternatively, leading a hospital whose mission is to provide care for sick people asks the leader of that hospital to have a specific set of competencies, that will be different from a leader who needs to lead people in a cut-throat, profit-driven corporate environment.

There are many leadership competencies that are being used globally, and often there are many names for the same competence. Some typical competencies which are highly relevant to leadership are:

Emotional Intelligence or EQ:

this is the ability to know your own emotional state and to regulate it. 

Cultural intelligence:

this is an awareness, understanding and sensitivity to the diverse nature of the people around you.

Strategic mindset:

this is a competence related to vision and strategy; being able to determine, sustain and articulate a strategic vision.


this is a set of skills and abilities which enable the leader to get a clear, coherent point across and deal with communication misunderstandings.

Managing change:

this is the ability to cope with changing times, ambiguity, and a lack of defined structure.

The above is just an example set. There are many other competencies which are relevant to leadership and are used by many organisations as part of their leadership competency models. Here is a list of some others (although this itself is not exhaustive):

When any organisation starts to plan their leadership development programme, it is essential that they first consider the competencies that they would like to include in their programme and not apply a one size fits all training programme based on too many competencies or competencies that are impossible to demonstrate. This kind of approach will often lead to competency models failing the organisation and then not making a sufficient impact to the training pipeline. 

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