Research Reveals the 2 Most Important Competencies for Success

Thousands of leaders from all over the world attend our leadership development programs, and as a result we have vast amounts of data about leaders from all over the world. As a quant-geeky researcher who also trains, I see how our research is an essential element in helping leaders achieve their best. So I hope this research tidbit can help you be your best.

People often want to know what to focus on when they embark on a leadership development path. Obviously, some of that will depend on you and your circumstances, but few people find the “it depends” answer very helpful. The good news is that there are two competencies that are picked as most important for success regardless of setting. So if you want to know where to dig in, I suggest focusing on the following:

  • Leading Employees
  • Strategic Perspective

How did I come up with those two? We asked people to pick which 8 of 16 Benchmarks™ competencies that they considered most important for success in their organization. When we analyzed the data, it didn’t matter who we asked (the participants, their boss, peers, or direct reports), which country (US, UK, China, India, Singapore, Spain, or Egypt), or what industry the leader came from. Those two–Leading Employees and Strategic Perspective–averaged out to be the top two most popular choices across the seven countries, picked more than 67% of the time.

So if these are important for success for our participants around the world, odds are they are going to be important for you, too. Here are some helpful tips to help you lead better and be more strategic, from our work and other sources like FYI: For Your Improvement from Lombardo and Eichinger.

Leading Employees

This competency is about attracting, motivating, and developing  employees. To work on this consider the following:

  • Delegate – You have to be able to let go of things, and trust that people will do the work. When you delegate work to others, they have an opportunity to learn new skills, and you can focus on coaching and mentoring them.
  • Communicate –Keep people informed of what is going on. Give feedback, both positive and constructive. Communication also means listening and paying attention to nonverbal cues.
  • Motivate –Understand what engages people in their work. What drives them to do their best? Foster an environment of engagement, and you will get people motivated to be their best.

Strategic Perspective

This competency is about understanding the viewpoint of higher management and effectively analyzing complex problems. To work on this consider the following:

  • Understand the big picture – Talk to people in upper management to get a sense of the different perspectives on core issues. If you don’t know anyone in upper management, see if you can get introduced to them by someone who is a mutual friend or acquaintance. Ask them out for lunch or coffee.
  • Understand the problem – Sometimes problems can be massive. Articulate what the complex problems are and why they are important. But to get action, you need to break the problem down into smaller issues so people can see how the problem can actually be solved.
  • Understand networks – While an organizational chart tells you who reports to whom, it doesn’t give you a clue about who has what information or how information travels. Get to know the underlying relationships in your organization so you can tap into different perspectives.
These findings are based on the following research:
Gentry, W. A., Eckert, R., Munusamy, V. P., Stawiski, S. A., & Martin, J. (in press). The needs of participants in leadership development programs: A qualitative and quantitative, cross-country investigation. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies.
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About Bill Gentry

William (Bill) is currently a Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and also an adjunct assistant professor at several colleges and universities. In applying his research into practice, Bill’s current focus is on helping leaders who are managing for the first time in their life. His research interests are in multisource (360) research, survey development and analysis, leadership and leadership development across cultures, leader character and integrity, mentoring, managerial derailment, multilevel measurement, and in the area of organizational politics and political skill in the workplace. He received a BA from Emory University and an MS and PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from the University of Georgia. Follow Bill on Twitter: Lead_Better
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8 Responses to Research Reveals the 2 Most Important Competencies for Success

  1. avatar Kerry says:

    Great post! I like the ideas, it’s really interesting to see how strategic perspective outranked leading employees. I do believe leading employees is better, but without perspective they will be lost.

  2. Thanks Kerry for the comment. All of our competencies on Benchmarks are important, but Leading Employees AND Strategic Perspecitve were consistently picked as being more important around the world. I do agree, you need both! Hope the research helped you (and everyone who reads it) out in your leadership!

  3. avatar Barnabas Owusu says:

    Great stuff, I would say these two are indeed most powerful stuffs, where are you leading your employees to without knowing the great picture (strategic perspective) ahead of you. Employees will only follow you, if they know where they going and fully motivated, then then give their best in terms of energy, suggestions, efforts to the extent of becoming socially bound to what is ahead of them. This is a fantastic research outcome.

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  7. Wonderful Post! I am working as a trainer for folks inside organizations – the training will be geared towards leaders, HR folks, and anyone else who wants to learn how to be an effective coach for others.

    I came across a list of the most important competencies that coaches need to be effective. These aren’t the ONLY competencies, but the ones that – in my humble opinion – make the greatest positive difference to the coaching discussion.

    – Increasing learner coachability
    – Service orientation
    – Deep listening
    – Questioning
    – Enhancing perspective
    – Systems thinking
    – Inspiring action
    – Managing agreements
    – Love

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