Regardless of Personality, Competency is Simply about Skill & Work Ethic

Dr. John Townsend

September 12, 2014

Two of the most important elements of leadership are competence and character. They are vital, and they play an important relationship to each other as well.

Competence. Competence has to do with your skill sets. They are those special abilities you have which help you clarify where you can best invest your time and energy. Here are a few of the key ones:

  • Visioning: The ability to see the big picture in the future, and create it from nothing.
  • Strategizing: Being able to think through the plan of what will get the organization from beginning to goal.
  • Relating: Connecting with others, to create trust with them, direct them and develop them.
  • Executing: The operations gift, which is the ability to simply make sure that what needs to be done, really gets done.
  • Technical: Often, a leader will also have some skill set that isn’t about leadership, but is important to an organization. For example, you may be an engineer, a scientist , a teacher or an artist. This gives you a deep bucket that can also be useful as you lead.

You may not have a natural gift in a competence, but simply work hard at doing a good job at it. If your job requires this, go for it. But the best scenario is to combine talent with development.

Character. Character is often seen as having integrity, being honest and being reliable. It is all of those, but it is broader than that. I define character as that set of capacities the leader needs to meet the demands of reality. That is, leadership has its demands: running the organization, making sure people are in their proper places, connecting with them, dealing with finances, sales, marketing, administration, and so forth. You need strong fiber. Leaders with character know how to connect well; they are clear in their responsibilities; they can handle problems and negative realities; and they are clear about their own role and mission.

Their connection. Finally, these two elements rest on each other. You must have both. A person who has character and the wrong competence will not be effective. And an individual who has competence and a character problem can ruin the culture of an organization. However, always start with character. It is the core of your being. And if your character is working, you will naturally be inclined to find the best fit for your competencies. Character drives us to growth, and that growth includes finding where your talents lie.

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