Defining Leadership

Competency Based Leadership Profiling

Dr. Kercz asked:

Leadership, in all its current forms and definitions, is once again the current topic of choice in many corporate settings.

Is the term overused? Perhaps – but that does not seem to curtail the seemingly endless supply of information on the topic. Simply defined, leadership is the ability to influence others through change. Despite the fact that not all companies require “leadership” in every employee, it still seems to be the most commonly requested “competency” to evaluate when seeking to add new employees to an organization.

Human resources professionals agree that leadership is a core set of traits that is desirable in every employee, the trick is not only defining it effectively but defining it in operational terms so that it can be both measured and evaluated objectively. All too often abstract terms are used to define leadership, not specifically but in ways that makes it “sound good”. In a global marketplace, where talent is scarce and the cost of a failed new hire represents a significant financial burden, the consistent and valid assessment of leadership and its potential becomes essential.

Any Google search on the term “Leadership Assessment” generates almost 5 million results. Everyone from the leading consulting firms to online testing sites claim to have the answer to assessing leadership. The truth is, many of these sources lack the credibility or experience to make such claims. If leadership is, in fact, the amount of influence a person has over a group of followers, how then, is this series of traits effectively assessed, in the context of a new hire? Certainly past performance is one indicator but corporate cultures are like fingerprints – each one is unique. How then does one measure the degree of influence required and what types of influence match both the corporate culture and the necessary change through which a leader must guide the followers?

The answer lies in CBP (Competency Based Profiling). CBP allow companies to map a series of personality traits to specific competencies. These competencies represent the objective measures of what is required (based on underlying traits) for successful leadership in a specific organizational setting.

So how does this mapping occur? The first step in the process is to identify and prioritize the key competencies required for the specific role within a corporate culture. For example, the ability to be innovative may be a competency that is required for the Vice President of Marketing but not one that would be a high priority when hiring a Vice President of Finance. From the perspective of culture, following policies and procedures may be beneficial in a unionized environment but not a competency that is highly valued in an entrepreneurial start-up.

There are a wide range of managerial and leadership competencies that can be linked directly to specific personality traits – decisive judgment, motivating others, conflict management, and championing change, to name a few. Mapping these and other competencies against the required functional and cultural demands of a role is essential to not only objectively measure leadership but to ensure a successful fit between the new hire and the existing organization.

Competency Based Profiling tools have improved significantly over the last few years. Technology has played a key role in making these assessment instruments both affordable and accessible. However, if there is one stand-alone point to effective competency based profiling it lies in the need to utilize a tool that has been specifically validated for use in hiring and selection scenarios. To be useful for selection purposes, an assessment tool needs to be thoroughly researched. Objective, statistical evidence must prove that the “test” in question can be linked to performance in the workplace. This ensures that the test provides an accurate picture to endorse the right candidate for the right role. Otherwise, hiring managers will revert to impression-based hiring – backing those candidates that they personally like or feel fit well with them – regardless of true ability.

Linking personality and behavioural characteristics with measurable competencies in the quest for effective leadership mitigates much of the risk when selecting candidates for senior level positions.

Companies that are serious about hiring great talent that WILL succeed within the organizational structure should consider utilizing reputable, competency-based assessment tools. Failing to do so is the equivalent of looking for leadership simply because it “sounds good”.


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