Five Core Competencies of Executive Leadership

A competency is a skill that equips an individual to perform a specific task. Just as a mechanic requires a precise set of skills to fix cars, leaders require a certain array of competencies to enact effective leadership.

Leadership is an often misunderstood, has nebulous concepts, is difficult to define and is frequently contested, owing to the diversity of contexts in which leadership can be expressed. As a consequence, there is an overabundance of models, frameworks and theories to describe leadership.

We’ll address five executive core competencies:

  • Leading people
  • Leading change
  • Communicating and building coalitions
  • Exercising business judgment
  • Being results-driven

Leading People

The competency of leading people emphasizes the ability to develop and implement strategies to maximize employee performance and foster high ethical standards in meeting your organization’s vision, mission and goals.

Within this competency of leading people, we must include:

  • Team building – Where leaders inspire, motivate and guide others toward accomplishment of the organizations goals; encourage and facilitate cooperation within the organization to develop a common focus; and develop leadership skills in others through coaching, mentoring, rewarding and guiding employees.
  • Cultural awareness – Where leaders champion cultural diversity in the workforce.
  • Integrity and honesty – Where leaders foster a high standard of ethics and instill mutual trust and confidence.
  • Conflict management – Where leaders attend to the morale and organizational-climate issues by identifying and preventing potential negative confrontations.

Leading Change

Leading change requires the ability to develop and implement an organizational vision and to incorporate that vision into the organization’s core values. It also involves the ability to foster a work environment that encourages creative thinking and the ability to maintain focus, intensity and persistence, even under adversity.

Change is the most difficult competency to deal with. As we all know, the fire service prefers tradition to change. Well, “tradition and we’ve always done it this way” isn’t going to work in this day and age. We have to think about the safety of fellow firefighters, the communities and ourselves.

There are two key points to leading change:

  • Demonstrate openness to different ways others do things by employing a continual spirit of learning: apply new thought, new technology or even traditional technology and traditional thought processes in a new way.
  • Recognize and understand forces on the outside of the organization.

Communicating and Building Coalitions

Leaders need to be able to explain and advocate facts and ideas in a convincing manner while communicating and negotiating with individuals and groups.

Additionally, they need to develop a network with other organizations and individuals who can help solve issues and identify the internal and external forces that impact the work of the organization.

Other key aspects of communicating and building coalitions include:

  • Employing interpersonal skills
  • Communicating through both the spoken and the written word
  • Influencing and negotiating
  • Partnering
  • Operating in the government environment

Remember, texting and emails may be taken out of context since your audience can’t interpret your interpersonal skills through the screen.

Exercising Business Judgment

Leaders must apply the principles of management generally used in the private sector to manage a public-sector operation. They must be able to exercise financial, HR and technology management to accomplish the organization’s mission. The bottom line of this competency is effective and efficient decision-making. Ask yourself these questions as a leader of your organization:

  • Have I selected the right people for the job?
  • Do I use excellence as the standard to lead the workforce?
  • Do I have a well-trained, competent workforce?
  • Do I use technology to its best advantage or use it just for the sake of it?
  • Do I encourage prudent risk-taking?

Being Results-Driven

This competency stresses accountability and continuous improvement. It includes the ability to make timely and effective decisions and produce results through strategic planning and the implementation and evaluation of programs and policies.

Jo-Ann Lorber, EFO, CFO, CEM, is a battalion chief for Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Fire Rescue. She is the secretary/treasurer for the Executive Fire Officers Section and a member of the Professional Development, Emergency Management and Program Planning Committees; she has been a member of the IAFC since 2005.

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