Competencies reinforce and disguise assumptions about the nature of organisational life and leadership
Richard Bolden and Jonathan Gosling in their article "Leadership Competencies: Time to Change the Tune?" (article is subscription only) in the journal titled Leadership, cite Marcus Buckingham from Gallup as identifying three further assumptions behind the competency approach. Sorry no link to Gallup – they don’t make it easy!
That those who excel in the same role display the same behaviours.
That is why competency models look so similar to each other and yet the leaders and the organisations they purport to describe look so different from each other. And of course many individual leaders achieve similar results via different approaches.
That these behaviours can be learned.
Competencies come down firmly on the "made" not "born" side of the leadership traits debate. This to my mind is not necessarily a problem, but is this assumption acknowledged in your own thinking about leadership competencies?
That improving on your weaknesses leads to success.
Many individual leaders have managed to be successful despite significant personal flaws e.g. Napoleon and probably any successful CEO you can think of from your own experience.
Yet More Assumptions!
As if that were not enough, Salaman points out some fundamental but often unacknowledged characteristics of the competency approach:
- The competency approach is a framwork for measuring, monitoring and regulating the behaviour of managers.
- Competencies require a translation from strategy to organisation to the individual manager, which tends to disguise organisational objectives and priorities which then remain hidden and unquestioned.
- Because the list of competencies serves as a specification for further improvement, the first management competency is commitment to the list of management competencies itself.
All in all, Bolden and Gosling suggest that leadership competencies are like written music, the notes and scales that denote the music, but that it is only in the performance of the music that it comes to life and has meaning for those who participate. Carrying this metaphor further, they suggest that the ability to play solo does not mean they can be an effective member of a group or orchestra (i.e. organisation) and the ability to read music or play certain notes does not make one an excellent musician. Further, being a successful musician in one genre such as classical does not mean that the talent will be able to be transferred to another genre such as jazz, rock or hip hop.
In summary, following the leadership competency approach means that you risk being able to do scales or musical exercises, but not being able to create music that will stir the emotions and move your people towards the ends that you desire.