If you want to be a great leader, focus on developing these important leadership competencies

While many people may think of leadership qualities as innate characteristics, nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that great leaders rely on key leadership competencies that they develop and hone over many years. Without these core attributes and skills, no leader can hope to find long-term success. If you've had your sights set on a career that involves leadership, it's important to understand and cultivate the most important competencies.

In this post, we'll explain what leadership competencies are and why they are so important for any leader's success. We'll also look at 20 examples of these competencies and provide some tips that you can use to develop your own leadership traits, skills, and abilities.

What is a leadership competency?

Leadership competencies encompass all the knowledge, skills, and traits that leaders use to manage themselves and lead other people and organizations. To be an effective leader requires more than a great leadership style and strategy; you also need to be knowledgeable, possess certain skills, and exhibit personal and professional characteristics that will inspire others to trust you and follow your lead.

If you examine any successful team or organization, it can be tempting to focus on the skills and characteristics of the team members. However, that examination will only tell part of the story. The reality is that there's almost always a great leader involved in that success, inspiring and encouraging the team to achieve great things.

Why are leadership competencies important?

A leader's core competencies are essential for ensuring that their team follows their lead and realizes their shared goals. To understand why, consider the many benefits that the most common leadership competencies can provide for any organization:

Inspiration and empowerment

With the right leadership competencies, a leader can motivate their team to achieve common goals. They do this by not only inspiring greater teamwork and collaboration, but also empowering each person to reach their full potential.

Strong relationships

Great leaders always forge strong relationships at every level of an organization. Leaders not only build teams that can work together effectively, but also develop connections that strengthen relationships with employees, managers, vendors, clients, and other stakeholders.

Better decision-making

Many of the most important leadership competencies enable leaders to make better decisions, with an eye toward minimizing risk and maximizing potential benefit. This improved decision-making is a vital ingredient for business success.


Some leadership competencies also ensure that leaders can help their employees, teams, and organizations to keep pace with an ever-changing economy. By being open to new ideas and promoting positive innovation, leaders can often help their companies navigate uncertain times and more readily adapt to new realities.

20 key leadership competencies that can help you succeed

We'll separate leader competencies into three main categories. They include all the competencies a leader needs to lead themselves, as well as the core competencies needed to lead other people and to lead organizations. It's important to recognize that most leaders possess some mix of these various competencies, with strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others. Let's examine some common but vital competencies for each category:

Competencies to lead yourself

Before you can lead other people, you need to be able to lead yourself. The skills and traits needed for self-discipline are some of the most important leadership competencies any leader can develop:

1.       Integrity. The best leaders model behaviors and attitudes that they want to see in their followers. They strive for honesty, maintain a strict code of ethical conduct, and make sure that their actions are driven by their expressed values.

 2.       Self-awareness. It's impossible to be a great leader without a well-developed sense of self-awareness. The ability to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses is one of the most important leadership competencies any successful leader can possess.

 3.       Commitment to learning. Given the pace of change in business, no leader is going to get very far without a firm commitment to lifelong learning. The best leaders keep pace with innovation, shifts in their consumer markets, and other important trends.

 4.       Adaptability. Leaders always need to be able to adapt to overcome new challenges and meet the changing needs of the marketplace. Great leaders understand the need to be flexible and willing to adapt to any situation, event, or trend.

 5.       Industry expertise. Knowledge is one of the most vital leadership competencies, and a key to success. Every effective leader is an expert in their area, and is deeply invested in learning the nuts and bolts of their own companies and operations.

 6.       Resilience. Failure is always a possibility and few leaders have yet to experience its sting. The difference between a mediocre leader and a great one is often the latter's ability to bounce back from failure and learn from the experience. This capacity for resilience can ensure that no failure is ever permanent, which means that success is never out of reach.

Competencies to lead your team

In addition to self-leadership, you also need specific competencies to lead individuals and groups of people. These are some of the most important traits and skills you'll need to fulfill that leadership role:

1.       Emotional intelligence. This key competency is essential for great leaders. With well developed emotional intelligence, a leader can better understand what others are feeling and more effectively navigate emotional situations. This insight is vital for developing the charisma needed to inspire others.

 2.       Interpersonal skills. Great people skills are commonplace for leaders. These skills include the ability to treat people with respect, respond to their feelings, and meet their needs. If you want to be a great leader, you need those interpersonal skills in abundance.

 3.       Focus on collaboration. Teamwork and collaboration lie at the heart of any organized effort. Leaders who are focused on building teams and encouraging people to work in concert with one another can motivate them to achieve almost anything they can imagine.

4.       An ability to inspire. Any examination of the great leaders throughout history – whether in politics, business, or social movements – reveals that they all had the ability to inspire others to follow their lead. That inspirational quality enables leaders to get others to adopt their vision, pursue their goals, and execute their strategies.

 5.       Coaching skills. Effective leaders understand that the best way to get their followers to exceed their own expectations is to provide coaching that empowers them as individuals. These coaching skills can help to ensure that each member of the team adds value to any collaborative effort.

 6.       An inclusive mindset. Another trait that is vital for leadership involves your mindset and how you value other people. Leaders who adopt an inclusive mindset, that welcomes everyone and recognizes each team member's unique value, earn their team's respect.

 7.       Conflict minimization and resolution. Leadership also requires the ability to create a culture that minimizes conflict, to enable employees to work within a harmonious environment. However, conflict will still sometimes occur, so it's vital for great leaders to possess keen conflict resolution skills that they can use to defuse disagreements and avoid unnecessary disruptions.

Competencies to lead your organization

At an organizational level, your leadership competencies need to be focused on broader concerns that have an even greater impact on your team and the company. For example:

1.       Vision. Companies that succeed do so because they maintain a coherent vision that is shared by the entire organization. The ability to create, foster, and maintain that vision is one of the most crucial elements of leadership. This requires a long-term perspective on the leader's part, along with the ability to influence others to act in ways that further that vision.

 2.       Strategic planning and execution. Strategic skills are also critical leadership competencies. Leaders with the ability to create and execute sound strategies for their organizations enable companies to move forward with greater stability and reduced risk.

 3.       Business acumen. The best leaders possess tremendous business acumen. This understanding of business includes a leader's specific knowledge about their own company, as well as insight into their industry and the fundamentals that companies rely on for success. 

 4.       Focus on being an agent of change. Growing organizations are constantly evolving, whether leaders want them to or not. Great leadership requires leaders to commit to being change agents that manage this evolution in an orderly and productive way.

 5.       External awareness. Leaders who fail to keep pace with trends and changes in their industry will invariably fail to foresee problems that threaten their business. It is thus vital for leaders to focus on remaining open to these external changes, to ensure that their companies remain dynamic and competitive.

 6.       Social intelligence. The ability to navigate a wide range of social settings and interactions is one of the key leadership competencies needed for success. Leaders need to be adept at interacting with their employees, shareholders, clients, and others, in a variety of environments.

 7.       Decision-making. Of course, leaders also need to be effective decision makers. The quality of those decisions will always have an impact on mission success, so the best leaders always strive to make the best possible decision and take accountability for the results.

Tips you can use to develop leadership competencies

As we noted earlier, leadership competencies can be learned and developed. If you're an aspiring leader looking for a way to improve your leadership abilities, the following tips can help you to develop the habits necessary to cultivate the competencies you need:

Start with a plan

When you want to develop better leadership competencies, you need to start by identifying the areas that you want to improve. Then create a strategy and roadmap that you can use to cultivate these traits and skills. It may take time to get to where you want to be, but if you have an action plan that you can follow along the way, you'll get there.

Become an expert

Since knowledge is a key competency for successful leaders, you need to focus on developing your own expertise. Learn everything you can about your company, its clients, its competition, and the industry. Follow trade periodicals and other resources that can help you to stay up to date on trends and industry changes. Use your LinkedIn account to develop a network of experts that you can turn to as you establish your own reputation as a thought leader.

Work on your communication skills

Leadership is ultimately about communication, so focus intently on developing your speaking and writing skills to ensure that you can effectively convey ideas and goals to others. You may even want to consult some online videos to see how some of the truly great leaders of the world deliver inspiring messages that drive real change in other people and industries.

Get a mentor and become one

One of the best ways to become a great leader is to study at the feet of a master. In other words, find a mentor who understands leadership competencies and principles, and then learn everything you can from them. If possible, also try to mentor someone else. Passing on the things you learn will help to reinforce those ideas in your own life and supercharge your leadership batteries.

Develop your own leadership competencies to become the leader you need to be!

There are no natural leaders in history. Even the greatest leaders were forged through hard work, education, and experience. That means that anyone can become a great leader if they're willing to take the time to develop these and other vital leadership competencies. By learning about these competencies and following these simple tips, you can begin to become the leader you want to be.

Not sure if your resume properly conveys your key leadership competencies to prospective employers? Get a free resume review from our team of experts today, to ensure that your resume delivers a compelling message that will land you more interviews.

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