5 Keys to Make Leadership Competency Models FlourishMy last blog post looked at how Why Many Leadership Competency Models Are Failing. This post looks at what has been learned over the decade of implementing the Strengths-Based Leadership Development System.

Jack Zenger, Joe Folkman, and their team have compiled a huge body of research on the best practices for developing and effectively using leadership competency models:

Differentiating Competencies

1.     What Really Matters: Correlate Competencies to Performance Outcomes

Highly effective leaders have a dramatic impact on morale, teamwork, engagement, innovation, customer satisfaction, quality, productivity, safety, sales, and profits. But which behaviors have the greatest impact?

Zenger Folkman’s research began with looking at survey responses from over 200,000 raters of more than 20,000 leaders. Each of the data sets represented different customized 360 surveys from a wide variety of organizations across dozens of sectors with nearly 2,000 behavioral descriptions or survey items. They searched for the competencies that sharply delineated the top 10 percent from the bottom 10 percent of leaders by their performance outcomes.

This scientific search for the key leadership competencies identified 16 competencies in five clusters:

Using our deep research data base we’ll often help organizations adapt their own customized competency models. The key is validating their competencies and descriptions with research that these behaviors have the greatest impact on performance results.

2.     Don’t Try to Do it All: Build 3- 5 Competencies from Good to Great

Extraordinary leaders rated at the 90th percentile deliver outstanding performance results that are 3 – 20 times higher than those at the 10th percentile. And top performing leaders deliver results that are double or more than average or good leaders rated at the 50th or 60th percentile.

The best news is that extraordinary leaders don’t need to be SuperLeaders excelling at all competencies to perform at the 80th and 90th percentiles. Improving just three to five of sixteen competencies from good to great will do it. And it doesn’t really matter which competencies we choose. So we can pick those that are natural strengths, are most relevant to our job, and we’re most energized about developing further.

Overall Leadership Effectiveness

3.     Develop Towering Strengths to Overshadow Weaknesses

Think of the best leader you know personally. What were this leader’s three to five most profound strengths? Did he or she have any weaknesses or areas at which he or she did not excel? What kept those weaknesses for undermining his or her overall impact?

Perfect leaders don’t exist. Leaders who excel at the 90th percentile across all competencies are exceedingly rare. Leadership development that comes across as the pursuit of perfection (“here are the pages and pages of competencies and behaviors you must excel at to be an outstanding leader”) is often de-motivating.

Leadership development that looks to magnify a smaller number of natural strengths that really make a difference is highly energizing. That’s why rates of personal growth, leadership development, and improvement double!

A Strengths Focus Doubles Improvement Rates

4.     Use Competency Models for Building and Developing

The sole purpose of a leadership competency model is to help leaders improve their effectiveness. A Strengths-Based Leadership Development System built on a relevant and validated competency model is a roadmap to higher performance. Like a GPS mapping device, the competency framework and 360 feedback assessment help a leader identify where he or she is now and which routes will take them to their next performance level.

Companion Competency mapping is a very critical element in this approach. This guides leaders in using strengths cross-training to plot their improvement journey. Here’s one of our studies illustrating the dramatic difference of using competencies and 360 feedback to build strengths versus finding and fixing weaknesses:

The Powerful Impact of Building Strengths

The one exception to focusing on strengths is if a 360 assessment shows the leader has a Fatal Flaw. That’s a competency which is important to the leader’s job and he or she is performing so poorly that others can’t see past the glare of this gap to his or her strengths. When that’s the case, the leader needs to focus all improvement energy here.

5.     Evaluate Performance Results (The What) Not Competencies (The How)

U.S. General George S. Patton delivered big results in World War Two. Under his leadership his army advanced further, captured more enemy prisoners, and liberated more territory in less time than any other army in history. A German field marshal speaking to American reporters called Patton “your best general.” Patton once articulated a key element in his performance management approach; “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

Effective performance management systems identify what to do. They set clear targets and measurement of success. An effective strengths-based leadership competency model helps people apply their ingenuity in playing to their passions and leveraging their natural strengths to meet organizational needs specific to their role.

The Power of Convergence

Further Reading: