Fundamental Leadership Competencies

Fundamental Leadership Competencies

A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a pre-defined method for performing activities to achieve a desired result. While there is no SOP to ensure successful leadership, there are three fundamental competencies that all effective leaders consistently demonstrate to achieve results. The three fundamental competencies include: strategic leadership, operational leadership and people leadership. To make them easy to remember, the first letter of each spells SOP. While the three fundamental competencies simplify effective leadership, they by no means make it easy.

1 – Strategic Leadership. According to Michael Porter, author of Competitive Advantage and professor at Harvard University, strategy answers: How are we going to be unique? How are we going to have an advantage? How are we going to sustain that advantage? Getting strategy right enables you to play offense while keeping pace with change. Getting it wrong causes you to play defense by continually reacting to the competition and market. While operational and execution excellence are critical, those competencies must be applied to the right strategy to win over time.

2 – Operational Leadership. Once strategy has been set, the right operating model must be created to execute it. According to Larry Bossidy, author of Execution and former CEO of Allied Signal, “Execution is the discipline of initiating and sustaining a process for getting things done.” Effective operations mean aligning people, process and technology with strategy and reviewing commitments for accountability. While it is often said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” both must be aligned. Strategy must be right and culture must be rooted in execution.

3 – People Leadership. Once the right operating model has been created, top talent must be hired to execute it – people as good or better than you. According to Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines, “The business of business is people.” People are a company’s only durable competitive advantage. Companies cannot be great without great people. Great people make great things happen. Make attracting, developing and retaining the industry’s best people your core competency. Great people can adapt to change and do not require management or motivation. 

In addition, there are two other key competencies that enhance effective leadership. They include:

4 – Priorities. Every business has complexity. Reduce the complexity into 3-5 clear and specific priorities. Priorities help people make the right decisions and tradeoffs about where to focus their time, resources and energy. Priorities help them know what to do in unexpected situations. If there are no priorities, focus and results suffer. When setting priorities, i) focus on the future, not the past, ii) focus on opportunities, not problems and iii) pick your own direction versus climb on the bandwagon. As executive Anthony Iannarino correctly states, “Priorities should be your priority.”

5 – Focus. FedEx founder and CEO Fred Smith once said, “In business, the big thing is making sure the big thing stays the big thing.” What Smith meant was staying focused on the right thing(s). Focus is measured by your ability to complete pre-determined objectives on time. What are your top 3-5 priorities? Focus relentlessly on achieving them and filter the rest. There will always be the temptation to focus on the important, but non-essential. Or, to fall back on what you are comfortable with, not what needs to be done. Commit to focusing on key priorities to reduce diversion.

All contents copyright © 2014, Josh Lowry. All rights reserved.


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