Evolving Competencies of Leaders

I recently came across a video by Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Helen Haste which proposes five competencies that will be required by managers in the 21st century. Her focus is on the need for educators to include these competencies in training which made this particularly interesting to me as a professor at the Devos Graduate School of Management. Of course, everybody seems to have an opinion on what the “key” leadership competencies should be, but Dr. Haste presents some ideas that are hard to ignore. She suggests that at least the following will be important to those moving into leadership positions now or in the near future: 

 1. Managing Ambiguity: Professor Haste argues that managing ambiguity is a competency that Leadership Development is necessary to teach because it counters the belief that there is a single linear solution. I would expand this notion to say that, not only are there few linear solutions, there are even fewer linear problems. Without the effort to determine exactly the nature of the problem being solved and understanding that there are likely multiple issues and as a result, multiple solutions, leaders limit the options they leave available.

2. Agency and Responsibility:  I find in my work and in my teaching that this is one of the most difficult areas to develop in leaders. And I agree with Professor Haste that these two elements go hand in hand. The willingness to take accountability is hampered in many cases because the leader doesn’t see any source of agency or put another way, they see no way to address the problem.  This creates a backward logic which essentially states, “I can’t move the mountain therefore the mountain can’t be my responsibility.” While this may be true, usually there is some part of the mountain that can be impacted by the leader if he or she will only take the responsibility to do so.

3. Finding and Maintaining Community: Recognizing that one is part of a bigger picture and that there are networks of people, family and relations that require ongoing attention and maintenance is the act of finding community. If you watch the video, you’ll get the impression this competency boils down to the ability to see that leadership is not about going it alone. In this upcoming generation of technology driven social networking continues, the value of these communities to our work and to our sanity will need to be understood and embraced.

4. Managing Emotion: One of Professor Haste’s most interesting points for today’s educators is that we have to help people get beyond the notion that emotion and reason are separate. In an attempt to flip a switch from one to the other, leaders limit themselves from the true scope of their decisions. They also create a condition of stress within themselves as they try to protect the partition between head and heart.

5. Managing Technological Change: In her final core competence recommendation, Professor Haste points out the need to see what technological change is all about. She points out that, when we get a new technology tool, we at first use it to do what we are already doing but in a better way. Transformation then comes when we begin to understand the tool enough to develop new applications. The students and leaders of today will also have to embrace and understand this evolving technology.

One important aspect to remember about the competencies listed above is that they do not exist in separate, discreet categories. For example, developing an ability to handle ambiguity does not in itself make me a good leader. It is the recognition that these are all parts of a larger picture that makes leadership development a lifelong pursuit.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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