For any organization to survive — and thrive — today, having strong leadership in place is critical. As a result, the topic has been given a lot of airtime recently. But despite the heightened focus, very little attention has been given to defining leadership and developing a consistent set of competencies for it.
“There are some distinct challenges facing us right now, and as C-level officers, what is it that we really need to have great strength in, in order to meet the needs that we’re seeing?” said Kris Girrell, a senior partner with Camden Consulting Group. “I don’t know that a lot of thought is really being [put] into culling out what the most critical skills for leaders are.”
To that end, based on his research, Girrell has developed three pairs of leadership competencies for executives, each of which can be improved with a few simple exercises.
1. Commitment and courage: “We have a lot of reactiveness to the events of the day — we’re much more reactive than proactive,” Girrell said. “And commitment really calls leaders to a level of proactivity. The issue becomes: Can we build a competency called commitment that is superior to the conditions of the day or the conditions of the market or whatever happens to come up? And that really takes courage.”
Girrell said this pair of competencies can be developed simply by making a commitment each day and sticking to it.
“You’re always going to meet resistance to your commitment,” he added, “so getting in the practice of not only making a commitment but fielding the equal and opposite reaction on a daily basis builds the discipline of commitment and the courage that it takes to fulfill your commitment.”
2. Communication and clarity: “[This is] a type of communication that takes full ownership and responsibility for both sides. What I mean by ‘both sides’ is the speaker and the listener,” Girrell said. “I hear so many people say, ‘I told them. I was very clear about what I told them.’ Yet they don’t take ownership for the fact that they may have spoken it in a way that the other person didn’t understand.”
Executives can improve in this department simply by checking in periodically with their listeners to ensure everyone’s on the same page.
“For the next 30 days, get in the habit of taking ownership for all aspects of the communication like it all depended on you,” Girrell said. “Taking responsibility for communication really requires focused attention on the listener side.”
3. Character and compassion: “Again, one of the things that we’ve talked so much about but I find increasingly missing is character — moral fiber,” Girrell said. “The great leaders aren’t the ones who’ve made no mistakes in their lives; they’re the ones who have learned from their mistakes. And what that builds in addition to character is this incredible compassion. Compassion is really an understanding of why you’re afraid — ‘because I’ve been there, too’ — [and] an understanding [of] what your resistance is — ‘because I have that condition, too.’”
Girrell said he works with leaders on building character and compassion by having them compose “shadow resumes,” the darker twin of the traditional resume.
“Your [regular] resume is the list of all the cool things that you’ve ever done. The shadow resume is a list of the all the big mistakes that you’ve made in your life and the lessons you’ve learned from [them],” he said. “Getting people to do their shadow resume is an exercise not only in good humility, but really in learning that through risk and failure we learn so much.”