Workplace Learning

3 Simple Questions to Help Leaders Develop Competencies

Thursday, April 12, 2018

So why are competencies and competency models important to the development of leaders? In simple terms competencies are a body of knowledge, skills and abilities that are required for successful performance of a leader. Competency models are an integrated set of competencies arranged to represent the world of functional performance for the leaders. Competency models are used by talent management professionals to recruit, select, develop, and manage leaders. But how can leaders themselves develop these competencies?

If you search the ATD website, you will find a plethora of resources on competencies—defining competencies, building competencies, validating competencies, and using competencies to build leadership and performance-centered training. There are newsletter and TD magazine articles, blogs, online and face-to-face classes, certificate programs, webcasts, books, conference session proceedings, and research papers. In addition, numerous companies large and small specialize in competency modeling and consulting.

Bottom line: there is no lack of information on competencies for talent development professionals. And it is great to see so much information on such a critical topic. But too much information also can be overwhelming for those who should be using the competencies to plan their development.

For the sake of simplicity, I present three simple questions that can guide leaders when they are developing competencies. Indeed, asking leaders these three simple questions can help them develop competencies they need to be successful.

1. What does success look like?

When selecting high potentials or new leaders, present them with the competencies or the competency model. Spend time having leaders become familiar with the competencies. Use small group activities, case studies, reflection, and discussions to help them understand why those competencies are important in their new role as a leader in your organization. Help them to pinpoint where they have seen the competencies demonstrated in leaders, and have them reflect on where these competencies fit in their new toolset as leaders.


Finally, use activities to help them apply these competencies to their broad functional performance categories as a leader. For example, connect the achievement of the leadership competency of interpersonal communications to their new function of liaising with external clients.

2. What competencies do we need to develop?

After establishing the importance of the leadership competencies in their new role, do they need to develop proficiency in the competencies? There are many assessments that can be used to determine development opportunities. Keep in mind: the assessment you use should clearly identify the competencies the leader should develop and provide scores or a narrative that can help the leader find developmental resources to close the gap.

You can identify leadership consultants to develop a customized assessment for your leaders, or you can use L&D experts in your organization who can develop valid and reliable assessments. Also, be sure to explore the Resources & Tools and Shop drop-down menus at to find consultants and more resources about competency assessments.

3. How do we obtain support for competency development?

Even though I list this question last, it should be the first question that is asked and answered. It’s critical to receive organizational support for your competency model before you embark on any leadership development effort. This ensures that your organization encourages the development of leadership competencies through financial support and recognition of development activities. What’s more, it secures senior executive involvement in development methods like mentoring, shadowing, sponsorship of development projects, and as a guest speaker at brown bags, panel discussions, and seminars to demonstrate the use of these competencies using real-life examples.

Want to learn more? Join me at the ATD 2018 International Conference & Exposition for the session: Effective Practices to Develop Government Leadership Talent. We will explore how to define critical components of a competency model for your organization to identify desired leadership behavior.

About the Author
Adelle J. Dantzler, M.S.Ed., is a training administrator for U.S. Government Accountability Office. She has over 25 years in the learning & development field working for federal agencies, contractors, and Fortune 100 companies to design, develop, manage, and evaluate instructor-led, online, and virtual training. Ms. Dantzler has used her master's level knowledge in instructional design, development & evaluation to create innovative and learner-centered solutions to develop leadership talent at the high potential, manager, and senior executive levels at 4 federal agencies. In the last 5 years she has developed a 18-24 month senior executive curriculum, the highly rated 3-day promotion transition course for managers (GS-15 equivalent) as well as a 2-year manager curriculum, and conducted research to make recommendations for the agency's new mentoring program. She has successfully facilitated training to hundreds and is a certified InsideOut Coaching, Crucial Conversations, Virtual Leadership trainer and a facilitator for CCL 360 Feedback, Emotional Intelligence (EQ-i2.0), MBTI, and FIRO-B.
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