Leadership and the competence factor

Of the 6 traits of successful leaders we’ve identified previously, surely competence, laid on a solid foundation of strength of character, has to rank right up there.

It seems like a no-brainer. We can have the most honest, honorable person in the world in a leadership position, wanting to be there for the right reasons even, but if he or she is not up to the task – not competent – then the other traits will not get them through.

How can we tell when leaders are competent? Some key indicators include:

  • They demonstrate a sense of purpose
  • They demonstrate good instincts through the quality of team they build around them
  • They demonstrate good instincts through the decisions they make
  • They are proactive; they make things happen
  • They walk the talk
  • They accept responsibility for their actions, for the failures or missteps as well as the successes.


Being competent as a leader isn’t about knowing more than everyone else. It’s about knowing how to forward the collective vision of the organization. It’s about building and leading a talented, cohesive team of people who together have the skills and experience to get the job done. It’s about competence in inspiring others to succeed in the shared responsibility of executing on the organizational vision.

It needs to be asked: Why do we end up with so many leaders whose competence we question?

  1. The Peter Principle. Everyone rises to their level of incompetence. In other words, more often than not we are promoted to a higher position because we did well in our previous one. But the skills required for our previous position don’t necessarily equip us for the new one, nor is the new position necessarily a good fit for us temperamentally. Every once in a while someone will know him or herself well enough to say, “You know what, I know I’m good at what I’m doing now, and I appreciate being considered for a leadership role with more responsibility – and more money – but it’s just not right for me.” But more often than that, this is not what people say, even if the thought crosses their mind. Hence, the Peter Principle.
  2. People take on leadership roles for the wrong reasons. If they are motivated primarily by the title, prestige, power, or money, their ability to inspire others to join in a common vision is compromised regardless of their potential.
  3. People in leadership roles sometimes build a team based on loyalty rather than ability. This leads to decision-making in a bubble (only hearing what people think you want to hear and/or only getting input from people with a similar mindset) and less likelihood of positive, creative outcomes.
  4. People in leadership roles sometimes build a team by putting weak people in place so that they look good and don’t feel threatened. This is an exercise in self-destruction, and far worse, puts the organization in a precarious situation in order to assuage the insecurities of the leader.

Many of these reasons come down to self-awareness. Most of the scenarios listed above are recognizable tendencies of human beings. We all suffer from insecurity from time to time. If our leaders can recognize those tendencies in themselves and deal with them, their ability to lead competently can shine. Lead for the right reasons. Summon those who can provide the experience, talent, and willingness to work hard on behalf of the organization. Be there. Support. Inspire. Please!!


Cartoon by Tom Cheney

Related posts on leadership:

This entry was posted in Entrepreneurship & Business, Leadership and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Leadership and the competence factor

  1. jennypellett says:

    Very interesting Jane. I think our current senior leadership team have sadly followed the Peter Principle😕


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