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7 Essential Competencies for Today’s New Leader

Thursday, November 7, 2019

It’s been 55 years since Bob Dylan sang, “Times They Are a-Changin’,” yet nothing is truer today. When it comes to management, we joke that change is the only constant yet we struggle as managers to deal with even the most basic of changes. The rate of change is exponential and organizations that fail to adapt are swept away by the tides of competition and irrelevance. Unfortunately, when we consider the single most important position to drive change, update processes, and ensure alignment between individual performance and corporate objectives, there are often few resources assigned to train, mentor, and guide new managers.

Many new-manager development programs are based in the fundamentals, structured upon the foundations of Fayol’s five principles of planning, organizing, staffing, leading, and controlling. As essential primer points, these are important—but not enough to keep up with the challenge of managing today’s workforce within the current global context.

Today’s leaders must also develop the following competencies to build a workforce that is resilient and capable to achieve success in a globally competitive environment.

1. Purpose and Passion—Managers must find what drives them and inspire others with their vision and confidence. Now more than ever, employees can sniff out a fake. Any manager who is simply “going through the motions” or lacks credibility, integrity, or honor will be eaten alive. On the other hand, people will follow a leader with the right vision and passion.

2. Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving—Managers must learn how to create solutions to the problem, not just treat the symptom. We have become good at putting a Band-Aid on things and sending the problem down the line. Managers who stop, fix it, and solve the problem will make the biggest difference.

3. Communication—Interpersonal, written and verbal communications are essential to success. In a world of texting—full of noise but void of human connection—the manager who can actually connect to his or her people will gain trust, loyalty, and performance every time.


4. Growing Others—A manager’s success is tied to how well they can help others succeed. After all, an organization is only as good as the people working for it. The sooner managers understand that they are only as good as the people they work with, the sooner they will figure out their primary role to grow, develop and improve those with whom they work.

5. Building Partnerships—Identifying key stakeholders and partnering to achieve more is the synergistic model to do more, achieve more and become more. It’s that simple. We can do more together than alone and the sooner a manager can understand that, the sooner they will become successful.

6. Accountability—This simply means holding ourselves and others to the goals and standards we set to achieve. Employees want to know when they are doing a good job—and they also want to know when they are not, but in a candid, respectful manner. They want to be successful, but they can’t fix what they don’t know. It’s a manager’s job to help them succeed and to hold them accountable when they are not engaging in success-oriented behavior.


7. Alignment—Managers must create a path to success where people, practices, and leadership align. From there, the manager’s primary job is to coach and guide others to stay on the path and move forward to achieve success.

Smart organizations don’t wait for managers to be promoted before beginning the competency development journey. By recognizing the value of these competencies, organizations can identify how they are applied in different positions and settings to optimize outcomes. Once their applications are defined and measured, these concepts can be built into development opportunities, training, coaching, and other learning that can begin even prior to their assignment as a manager. This allows for gradual and ongoing development of key talent to prepare for management opportunities. These competencies can then be built into the core content as organizations engage in management development once in their new positions.

Times will continue to change. The workforce and global competitive dynamics will always remain dynamic. By developing these essential competencies within your new and existing managers, they will be empowered with the tools of resilience and flexibility to meet the ongoing challenges that will come their way.

About the Author

Dr. Wade Larson is an author, speaker, coach, consultant, and CHRO for Wagstaff Inc., a global manufacturing firm in Washington State, and has worked more than 25 years in the field of human resources and professional development. As a senior leader, Wade has specialized in reengineering the HR function for several organizations; as a consultant, he has worked with over 200 organizations finding solutions for better employee alignment and organizational performance. In his book Doing HR Better (2018), he lays out a simplified model to assist other HR leaders in their efforts to improve the HR function. Today he is on a personal mission to help organizations overcome mediocrity and assist their employees to do more, become more, and achieve more.

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