Strategic Leadership Competency Development

Strategic Leadership Competency Development

Paul G. Putman (Cleveland Foundation, USA & Cleveland State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1049-9.ch104


Breaking down the broad concept of leadership into competencies can facilitate leaders becoming self-aware of education or development needs to increase their performance. Leadership competencies can be viewed in terms of workplace success as skills that can be developed (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2002; Northouse, 2015). Competencies help organizations set clear expectations about the types of behaviors, capabilities, mind-sets, and values that are important to those in leadership roles” (Conger and Ready, 2004, p. 43). This chapter provides an overview and introduction to competency models. It includes a description of adult learning theories applicable for competency development and effective andragogy (adult education). Included are criticisms regarding leadership competency models. The chapter also includes an example of an innovative leadership competency development approach. The chapter will close with a discussion and recommendations for future research.
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The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born - that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born. – Warren Bennis

In the past, inherent leadership traits were used as a way to predetermine who could and could not be a leader. “Great man” theories (leaders were almost always deemed to be men a century or more ago) were filled with traits or qualities possessed only by (in the United States, at least) men lucky enough to be born with the physical or societal traits generally determined to be connected with leaders. As Warren Bennis notes, however, this thinking is outdated and over the past 100 years has evolved into a new conceptualization of leadership competencies, which can be practiced and developed by anyone. This democratization of leadership theory has opened up leadership development to an expanded and more inclusive audience of leaders. Most recently, strategic leadership perspectives are placing responsibility for leadership development in the hands of leaders themselves who are tasked with seeking out resources to help them improve specific leadership competencies.

This chapter provides an overview of leadership competency theory and its use in leadership training and education. After providing background on the trait theory of leadership and its evolution into leadership competencies, this chapter will provide examples of several leadership competency models including a widely used strategic leadership model. In order to best assist leadership educators, trainers, and leaders themselves who wish to utilize leadership competencies, underlying adult education theories and related leadership development concepts are included.



A major debate in leadership education/training has focused on whether leaders are born or whether they can be developed. Early conceptualizations of leadership focused on the traits of a leader, who was often believed to have been born with the innate ability to lead. This Trait Theory of leadership was one of the first ways that leadership was studied. Thurstone (1934) factored his list of 60 adjectives into five independent common factors that became known as the “Big Five Personality Traits” (p. 8). These five trait dimensions are Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness (Deinert, Homan, Boer, Voelpel, & Gutermann, 2015). While trait theory has been criticized for over-simplifying personality, within the complex concept of leadership, breaking it down into more digestible morsels is a helpful approach.

Trait theorists work to identify a set of traits related to leadership such as intelligence, initiative, and persistence. In one of the earliest studies, Terman (1904) divided various “qualities” of leadership into 13 groups. These groups included items ranging from good looks, neatness, and dress to tact, honesty, and originality – they even included surprising traits such as musical ability, use of slang, and wit (Terman, 1904). Stogdill, another early leadership researcher, in 1948 “analyzed and synthesized more than 124 trait studies conducted between 1904 and 1947” (Northouse, 2015, p. 20). In a second review of mid-20th century leadership research, he looked at 163 more studies conducted between 1948 and 1970. Bennis (1989) posited that vision, passion, integrity, maturity, trust, curiosity, and daring are all traits valuable to leadership. Although other ways to conceptualize leadership have been put forth by various theorists and researchers, trait theory is still being researched today. For example, Joyce, in his text exploring strategic leadership in the public services sector, notes the importance of the personal quality or trait “an orientation to learning” which requires that leaders be “perpetual learners” (Joyce, 2012, p. 17).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Andragogy: Adult learning theory and practice; adult education. Term used to emphasize contrast to pedagogy, which traditionally focuses on youth learning.

Leadership Competency Development: The process by which individual learners explore and advance their leadership competencies. This process can also be viewed from the group or organizational level of system.

Simulation: A type of experiential education in which the learning mode simulates an environment or interaction.

Competency: A behavior or ability that may be influenced or modified by a situation, strategy, or characteristic. A competency may be developed over time.

Virtual Simulation: A simulation that takes place in a virtual environment.

Trait: Attribute traditionally believed to be inherent to an individual (ie. “He is a born charismatic leader”).

Strategic Leadership Competency Development: refers specifically to the process by which individual learners explore and advance their strategic leadership competencies (a subset of leadership competencies).

Skill: Often used interchangeably with competency; usually of a technical nature.

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