The Top 6 Leadership Competencies Everyone Should Know and Grow

Aug. 1, 2019
If you turn to most organizations — including your own — you’ll likely be able to list out the core values that anyone within the workplace should embody. Look in […]

If you turn to most organizations — including your own — you’ll likely be able to list out the core values that anyone within the workplace should embody. Look in the break room, on the annual performance appraisal, or maybe on some cool tchotchke given out at an annual workplace event; you’ll see things like Integrity, Team Work, and Customer Focus listed. This is the social contract that anyone working for that organization should abide by.

Regardless of what your organizational values are, it’s showing time again, especially in today’s modern workplace, that there really are 6 fundamental competencies that any leader — regardless of organization, profession, level within the business, or role — should focus their energy on if they want to not just survive but thrive in today’s workplace. And the best part: you probably already have an awesome handle on most of them.

"But I’m Not a Leader!"

You may be thinking, "Wait a minute: you say ‘leader,’ but I’m not a leader." Shenanigans! A "leader" really is anyone who needs to influence and, well, lead within the organization. That could be a department head leading a corporate function, a project manager leading a team to accomplish a goal, an individual contributor with no formal leadership authority but still needs to get their stuff done — everyone within today’s workplace is indeed a leader one way or another.

In short: if you’re in a work situation where you need to interact with co-workers, bosses, direct reports, or customers, then guess what, friend? Congrats — you’re a leader!

Why These 6 Competencies?

There’s been a lot conversation about what are "the right" competencies that someone serious about their own leadership development should focus on. But when you look at the field, the latest books on the topic, and what experts "out there" are focusing their energy, it’s really these 6:
1. Being Authentic
2. Having Leadership Courage
3. Leveraging Empathy
4. Using Inclusive Communication
5. Building Relationships
6. Shaping Culture

What’s interesting about the 6 areas is that they are very intertwined. For example: being your authentic self as a leader requires having courage; building relationships requires effective communication skills, etc. So, while we’re looking at these 6 leadership competencies one at a time, they really wonderfully interconnect to make up the whole leadership you.

Food for Thought from Our 2022 ICT Visionaries

Let’s explore these Top Six.

Leadership Competency #1. Being Authentic
A smart leader is one who’s authentic: they conduct business as their true selves (and not just a company "talking head"), they are truthful, and have self-awareness of their skills and abilities; they know what they bring to the table as well as where they lack competence. Nothing erodes trust (your ultimate goal as a leader) by being insincere and fake. Authentic leaders are genuine.

Leadership Competency #2. Having Leadership Courage
Leadership courage isn’t that action hero kind of courage, but it’s being brave enough to do the right thing, even if it’s against the majority (or your bosses or customers). Having courage allows you to not get stuck in a rut, but to try new things, be innovative, have those more challenging conversations, ask "why are we doing it this way?" and be able to speak up and put yourself out there.

Leadership Competency #3. Leveraging Empathy
A leader who leverages empathy puts themselves in other people’s shoes. They think about situations from not just their own position but that of the other person. Smart leaders know that emotions and logic both play a part in the modern workplace, and they are open to listening and learning about the context of others within their team.

Leadership Competency #4. Inclusive Communication
So much can be said about effective communication leading to leadership success, but let’s focus on just one aspect: effective listening. Smart leaders who engage in effective listening show respect and that they are paying attention to the speaker. Leveraging effective listening allows team members to not just be heard but feel that you as the leader are present and paying attention. As the saying goes you do have two ears and one mouth for a reason—you should be listening twice as much as you speak.

Leadership Competency #5. Building Relationships
Pssst: Here’s a big, giant, crazy secret: building relationships leads to leadership success. It’s not to say the other leadership competencies aren’t important, but if you focus on building relationships using some of the other competencies here (like effective communication and being authentic), you can accomplish anything. Work gets done when you leverage your relationships. (And doing so builds trust.  There’s that "t" word again.)

Leadership Competency #6. Shaping Culture
As a smart leader, you’ll want to shape and influence your organizational culture for the better (this is sometimes called "change management"). How can you do this? Through ensuring the 6 parts of a true change management program are in place:
(1) Mobilize an active and visible executive sponsor (that could be you!).
(2) Dedicate someone(s) to manage the change process.
(3) Apply a structured approach and process to the change.
(4) Engage with team members and encourage their participation.
(5) Communicate frequently and openly.
(6) Integrate and engage with effective project management best practices.


Being a smart and effective leader isn’t easy, and there’s so much you can do to either start or continue to grow as a leader. But, by focusing on these 6 competencies as a starting point, you will not only amp up your own leadership effectiveness, but you’ll also improve the performance of those around you and your organization. And — added bonus! — that makes the workplace just a little more enjoyable for everyone. Now that you know, go grow.

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About the Author: Dr. Steve Yacovelli ("The Gay Leadership Dude") is Owner & Principal of TopDog Learning Group, LLC, a learning and development, leadership, change management, and diversity and consulting firm based in Orlando, Fla, USA, with affiliates across the globe. With over 25 years of experience, Steve is a rare breed that understands the power of using academic theory and applying it to the real world for better results. His latest book, Pride Leadership: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ Leader to be the King or Queen of their Jungle, is now available. For more information, please visit https://topdoglearning.biz/.

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