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0 Developing Leadership Competencies

If a leadership position is something you hope to achieve, signaling this goal to others is a powerful first step. Talk to your supervisor or a mentor (informal or formal) who can offer insights to management, facilitate network-expanding introductions, and plan assignments that hone leadership competencies. Show your dedication and seriousness by actively seeking leadership experiences that you can measure and quantify on your resume.

In this month’s newsletter, we will map out some universal leadership competencies and share strategies for cultivating them through hands-on learning and mentoring work. We will also suggest best practices for relating these experiences. Speaking competently about your accomplishments will assure current and future managers of your capabilities.

Most Valued Leadership Competencies
Boldness, decisiveness, effective conflict management...when we reflect on the best managers we’ve encountered, these attributes often come to mind. The best leaders show confidence in their work. The Harvard Business Review asked nearly 200 organizational leaders from around the world to consider which leadership competencies they have found to be most important. Their feedback boiled down to a thematic list that we will share here in ranking order.

According to the survey, an effective leader:

  1. Maintains high ethical standards while creating a safe environment.
  2. Is able to delegate and rely on others to get things done.
  3. Communicates frequently so that employees feel connected.
  4. Is open to new ideas, willing to learn.
  5. Helps others to grow and meet their potential.

In other words, being an effective leader takes more than being self-assured. It’s about holding up the organization’s values and mission while nurturing others’ growth and development so that they can do the same. To show your capacity for leadership, consider opportunities to weave these competencies into your mentoring goals.

Writing Leadership into Your Development Goals
When writing measurable goals that lean into leadership, be practical. Include benchmarks and clear activities that you can easily report back to your supervisor or mentor.

For example, if your objective is to expand your network, you might attend an organizational event at a level higher than you would normally (a Director’s meeting, strategic planning session, or budget hearing, for example) to learn new perspectives on your agency’s mission and future.

While the primary aim is to expand your network, you will also gain insights into the trends that are impacting the agency’s mission and shape the views and priorities of key stakeholders.
Once completed, analyze and summarize your experience so that you are prepared when a supervisor or mentor asks, “Can you tell me about how you are building coalitions?” For example:

I attended a Director’s staff meeting to learn about their initiatives and meet the key players who participate. Learning about the department’s contributions to the agency illuminated a new perspective on the strategic direction our organization is going in 2020. It also gave me some ideas for things we can prepare for on our team.

More Examples of Leadership-Oriented Activities
Looking for more ways to weave leadership into mentoring goals? The best way to make sure your mentoring plan covers leadership opportunities is to actively pursue them. Make time to brainstorm with your supervisor and talk about what you want to accomplish. Here are a few ideas for meaningful assignments to tackle with your supervisor’s support:

  • Form and lead a cross-sectional task force to tackle a division-wide initiative (for example, training on a new procurement system or organizing the summer internship program).
  • Offer assistance to an agency leader to plan a quarterly town hall or state of the organization meeting.
  • Foster new technical skills by partnering with a colleague in a different division to complete a project.
  • Organize a networking event with a small group of program participants to discuss the impact of specific legislation on your agency’s mission.
  • Keep track and be prepared to speak confidently about how the assignments you choose are contributing to your leadership potential.

Plan an Informational Interview with an Organizational Leader
Demonstrate your curiosity by speaking with one of your organization’s leaders to find out what qualities they most value. Ask for your mentor’s help in setting up an informational interview. Ask direct questions, such as, “What is the profile of someone you most recently hired into a management position? What stood out about their abilities and experience?” or, “What experience best prepared you for this job?” and maybe even, “Who depends on you most? In turn, who do you depend on most?”

Getting acquainted with the leadership culture where you work will flesh out your understanding of what it takes to succeed in a leadership role.

Show Passion in All You Do
When talking about what makes a great leader, we can’t underestimate the impression that passion makes. Energy, optimism, and zeal for learning often mark the divide between those who are simply doing their job and those who have enough charisma and positivity to lead. Smile, mind your posture, get to know your colleagues. Show excitement for the work and ask questions. When you’ve completed an assignment, solicit feedback from your peers and managers. Tell them how their comments will help you do an even better job next time.