The Ten Key Competencies of High Performers and Next Generation Leaders

Global advisory firm CEB released their Executive Guidance – 2013 report identifying the critical competencies high performers embody in today’s rapidly changing workplace.  The study examined the drivers and performance of more than 20,000 professionals working for 40 separate entities around the world.  Gaining insights into evolving skill sets and performance attributes provides guidance for choosing the right training and development endeavors that best serve the enterprise.

If you happen to be a frequent or even occasional reader of this blog you are probably familiar with our philosophy of cultivating the right talent and the right thinking necessary to successfully navigate the accelerating change and ambiguity of today’s global workplace.  Value creation today is rooted in the efficient commercialization of economically viable intellectual property (IP).  The raw material of IP is human creativity, and thus, human beings.  How we choose to connect, engage and motivate human beings will have the greatest impact on organizational success going forward.  Leaders must develop keen insights into what we call “the granularity of the human experience” in order to inspire and orchestrate the emerging demands of intra and extra-organizational collaboration.  The same type of, for lack of a better word, technical expertise about human beings that has historically been demonstrated in the fields of engineering, science and technology; key drivers of value creation during the Industrial and Information Ages.

CEB’s study surfaced several interesting trends and observations from executives that are reshaping the core competencies leaders, at every level throughout the enterprise, must embrace and consistently demonstrate in order to optimize performance.  First, the executives surveyed expressed the need to secure a 20% improvement in employee productivity in order to stay competitive in the future.  They also felt that only 29% of their associates were working at full capacity.  This is a fascinating figure as it is the similar percentage that Gallup® and the Chartered Management Institute® both report as  fully engaged employees (yes, seven out of ten associates are disengaged with their employer).  Engaged employees that show up with passion and excitement about their work.  This isn’t a coincidence as the prerequisite to knowledge work, creative thinking and open collaboration is engagement.  Engagement on both a cognitive and emotional level.  If leaders are to wring an additional 20% increase in productivity from today’s lean-staffed organizations it is going to come from expanding engagement levels throughout the business.

The executives surveyed also identified three distinct trends that are already well underway.  Frequent organizational change, the need for more interdependent work to be accomplished and a continuous increase in the performance of knowledge work will require a new set of competencies to emerge.  Those that lead with success and optimally perform in this volatile, co-dependent environment will be those that have expanded their development beyond traditional, technical business competencies to include what were once dismissed as soft skills.  Skills that overlap personal and professional development.  Skills that contribute to a heightened state of awareness; what one might refer to as a state of mindfulness.

CEB’s list of critical competencies strongly correlates to our philosophy and approach.  Here’s their list along with some additional thoughts.

1.) Ability to Prioritize ~ Having worked for more than a decade in the investor-driven startup world as a strategist, prioritizing activities, focus and constrained resources was always critical to success.  To help in the prioritization process, we created a decision-support tool called Dynamic Parallel Targeting®* that incorporated a qualitative and quantitative approach to weighing various business pros and cons of competing priorities and market opportunities.  Far from being a scientific methodology, the tool did, however, create a structured discussion document that spurred debate and creative thinking that may not have occur otherwise.  As windows of opportunity open and close with advancing speed there’s little room for slack and each individual’s ability to prioritize their energies and efforts will grow in importance.

2.) Works Well in Teams ~ As you read this list you will notice how strongly intertwined all of these competencies are.  What makes a good teammate?  Someone that can put the objectives and success of the team above their own personal desires.  Mature prioritization that parks the ego and successfully manages a variety of relationships with a diverse group of people.  This requires empathy for others to emerge and consistently be demonstrated, not something that is traditionally stressed in business schools.

3.) Organizational Awareness ~ At first blush you might think, strategy and vision, knowing where the organization is going.  While this is part of it, it’s more nuanced.  The root of this competency is cultivated through the imparting of social awareness; a key component of emotional intelligence.  Organizational awareness requires the skill of discernment to emerge; of being self-aware of one’s hidden biases and honest enough to see not only where the organization is heading but where it is today.

4.) Effective Problem Solving ~ Referring back to the creation of Dynamic Parallel Targeting, we had a challenge on our hands.  We had a disruptive technology that had more than a dozen market applications, so where do we launch first? We worked as a team to solve this problem by creating a new tool to structure the search for the optimal solution.  Problem solving to solve a problem and improve our thinking going forward.

5.) Self-Awareness ~ This is the first tenet of emotional intelligence and mindfulness.  When we can get off the dance floor and into the balcony in regards to our own thoughts, emotions, motivations and behaviors, and the impact these elements have on those we lead and work with, we discover a new orientation.  The self-aware professional doesn’t take things personally.  They are grounded in authenticity rather than in a state of conditioned perspectives.  From this foundation, self-regluation can emerge (another skill of emotional intelligence).  Through this self mastery, presence comes to the surface and with it one’s ability to rapidly build trust, engagement and spark inspiration in others.

6.) Proactivity ~ Businesses can no longer afford to wait for people to be told when to bring their brains online.  Associates need to be free to move forward, free to think and invited to contribute.  This requires a culture that encourages measured risk-taking and empowers decision making throughout the organization.  Again, the prerequisite for proactivity is engagement; engagement cultivated through mindful leadership.

7.) Ability to Influence ~ The ability to influence requires trust and relationship.  As we saw earlier, the competencies of self-awareness, self regulation and social awareness are the foundational blocks upon which this skill is built.  As these foundational skills engrain, a clarity emerges.

8.) Effective Decision Making ~ Discernment versus judgement.  The ability to correctly prioritize is a form of effective decision making as well.  Once again, awareness, or more fully…mindfulness, improves decision making as clarity delivers fresh insights and a checked ego invites collaboration and input from diverse perspectives, further enhancing engagement.

9.) Learning Agility ~ This really speaks to both the cognitive and emotional agility that comes through self mastery.  Grounded in authenticity, free from conditioned thinking, we can adapt and learn continuously throughout our personal and professional lives.  Learning agility is key because continuous learning is now an essential element of business success.

10.) Technical Savvy ~ Perhaps this goes without saying, but it harkens back to learning agility.  Staying current with technology’s enabling, rapid evolution demands continuous learning.

CEB’s report goes on to illustrate the prevalence of associates that demonstrate the combination of these skills is around 5% (ranging from a high of 6.4% in the technology sector to a low of 4.1% in the travel and leisure industry).  While on the surface this sounds dire, it also points to the breakthrough performance and productivity gains that are attainable through applying the right blended learning, coaching and development programs to cultivate these competencies and the organizational fitness that will be necessary to sustain them.

* Dynamic Parallel Targeting is a registered trademark of SalesForce4Hire®, LLC.

© 2013, Terry Murray.


Filed under Health Care, Leadership Development

6 responses to “The Ten Key Competencies of High Performers and Next Generation Leaders

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