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The 'New Key Leadership Competencies' - Nicely Done!

Geoff Schaadt

Canada and the world are changing rapidly.

This sentence opens the preamble of The new Key Leadership Competencies that was recently released by the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer (OCHRO) for the Government of Canada.

It effectively announces to the world, “The way we do things is going to have to change.”

Yes, this is a big deal.

It’s so easy to succumb to the cynicism that invariably emerges when dealing with large, bureaucratic institutions – and there is nothing bigger or more bureaucratic than the Federal government – but acknowledgement of the growing and accelerating change that we all face is an important step in developing the next generation of leaders.

So, if we need to focus on the ‘next generation of leaders’ what will separate them from the current generation of leaders in the GoC?

2005 Key Leadership Competencies

  • Values and Ethics: the focus is on building workplaces that embrace integrity in the way that they operate, are respectful of diversity and fairness, and are accountable for decisions and actions.
  • Strategic Thinking: is about innovation through analysis of trends and the development of informed advice and strategies.
  • Engagement: details the need for stakeholder engagement, coalition building, and employee motivation to achieve strategic objectives.
  • Management Excellence: supports the idea that organizational effectiveness is a result of the managers’ abilities to align people with work and systems.

Far too much time has been spent outlining the many differences between leadership and management, but it seems that the authors of the 2005 competencies didn’t concern themselves with that issue at all. Their list was far more concerned with effective management practices than with the development of sound leadership skills.

2015 Key Leadership Competencies

The new list of leadership competencies is a significantly better reflection of the behaviours required of those who are expected to provide “leadership”.

  • Create Vision and Strategy: leaders define the future and chart a path forward
  • Mobilize People: leaders inspire and motivate the people they lead
  • Uphold Integrity and Respect: leaders exemplify ethical practices, professionalism and personal integrity
  • Collaborate with Partners and Stakeholders: leaders are open and flexible in seeking out a broad spectrum of resources
  • Promote Innovation and Guide Change: leaders have the courage and resilience to challenge innovation through bold thinking, experimentation and intelligent risk taking.
  • Achieve Results: leaders mobilize and manage resources to deliver

Defining Leadership

Teaching people how to lead others is no small task. How do we teach a concept that is so nebulous that few of us can even reach an agreement as to what it is?

So don’t bother trying to define “leadership”. It is a concept that is so slippery and subject to personal biases that it can never be nailed down. In fact, for most of us leadership is a concept – like “obscenity” – that US Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, famously defined as, “I know it when I see it”.

Within this context, the OCHRO has made the right choice.

Define Behaviours

So, if we can’t accurately define leadership, how are we supposed to teach it?

It’s actually not that hard – just set forward the behaviours that you expect to see when it is being done right. If you will “know it when you see it”, then compile a list of what it is that you expect to see.

It is impossible to accurately evaluate a person’s attitudes or beliefs, but we can observe behaviours and performance.

We cannot watch a person and say with any certainty what he is thinking. However, we can watch a person and say with a fair amount of certainty that “she is doing this right now”.

Learn through Behaviours

Now here’s the really cool part of this approach to training: the evidence is becoming compelling that behaviours influence attitudes MORE THAN attitudes influence behaviours.

Certainly, absent any other influences, our attitudes and feelings drive the behaviours we exhibit. However, when we are required to conduct ourselves in a specific way, the result is a profound impact on our attitudes. Hence the advice to “fake it ’til you make it”!

We are what we pretend to be. So we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
    - Kurt Vonnegut

Recently, there has been considerable chatter about the new leadership development book, Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader in which author Herminia Ibarra specifically encourages the idea that we develop leadership skills when we go out and actively engage in leadership activities. This is not to suggest that mistakes won’t happen or that there won’t be struggles along the way, but these actions (behaviours) will form the patterns of thought that great leaders must develop.


The downside to jumping straightaway into action? When we don’t have a guidepost to define what success will look like. In the absence of appropriate coaching or guidance, we will most often default to whatever we think a “real leader” looks like.

And this is where the list of new Key Leadership Competencies becomes crucial. It is a mirror that the developing leader can hold up to engage in self-evaluation (better yet with guidance from a respected mentor) to ask themselves questions like:

  • Am I charting a way forward and creating consensus around the vision?
  • Am I inspiring and motivating people?
  • Am I doing these things with integrity and respect? Do I create trust and collegial relationships?
  • Have I been deliberate in seeking out diverse perspectives?
  • Do I support bold thinking, experimentation, and risk taking?
  • Am I delivering results?

Of course, I have my personal criticisms of the competencies as outlined – I would like to see much greater attention focused on the role of the leader as the individual who creates the environment in which others can be successful – but, overall, I find that the 2015 competency list is a necessary and well-executed update.

Nicely done!

Coach: Barb and Dean via Compfight cc

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