The right to lead part four: competence

  • Published
  • By Gene Kamena, with Col. Mark Danigole and Navy Capt. Scot Askins
  • Air War College
In last week's right to lead segment we examined obligations and requirements and found them to be related, but not necessarily the same thing. This week, in the fourth installment of the series, we will explore the vast topic area of a leader's competency.

At first glance, the topic of a leader's competence seems straight forward. Upon deeper examination, however, it is not easy to state with certitude what exactly competence consists of. People tend to have their own ideas and perspective as to what competence is and what it looks like.

To add to the challenge, the words "competence" and "competency" are often used interchangeably, but is there a difference?

Think of "competence" as the actual state or level of skills and abilities that you as a leader possess. Whereas, "competency" is the specific skills and abilities required by a particular job or position. In other words, competence is the current state of your ability, what you are able to do. Competency is what is demanded of you by a position, duty, or situation.

When what is demanded (competency) is greater than the present state of your abilities or skills (competence) you must either develop the required skills or risk failure.

It is not necessarily a bad thing to be in a position where the skill required is greater than your current abilities. This is the very essence of being "stretched" as a leader and this is how leaders continue to grow and develop.

But, it becomes a liability when a leader stops learning or fails to grow into a position or fails to meet requirements.

As you evaluate your competence, you may find the following framework useful. Consider competence as the sum of its sub-elements: a leader's knowledge, the skills that a leader possesses, and the behaviors that a leader demonstrates. Some points to consider:

· A leader's skills fall into one of two general categories: technical or personal. Examples are the ability to fly a technically advanced aircraft and design a computer network. Personal skills might include the ability to communicate effectively, build strong lasting relationships and think critically.

· Knowledge is gained through experience, training and education. The military does a good job of training and educating its leaders. However, it is the responsibility of leaders to continue to learn and to seek knowledge throughout their careers, to be a lifelong learner.

· Behaviors are what people see first, they are the observable activities that leave lasting impressions. The level of education and technical prowess mean little if the leader sets a poor example in appearance or is demeaning to others.

A leader's competence is relative to the positional requirements and tasks at hand. For example, a leader who masters flying an advanced aircraft and who also commands at the squadron level must learn a new set of skills, knowledge, and behaviors when assigned to a staff position in the Pentagon.

Pilot skills and command experience contribute to that leader's DNA, but these skills, knowledge and behaviors may not be relevant to the new task.

Unfortunately, some leaders fail to adapt or grow into their current position or situation. These leaders either have an inflated view of their abilities or think that there is no need for continued learning and growth. For a myriad reasons, they will never bridge the gap between their personal competence and the competency required of their job.

Obtaining competency does not grant you the right to lead, although competency is prerequisite. Incompetent leaders will never earn the right to lead.

The good news is that you, the leader, have much to say about your own competence. If your competence falls short of the competency required by duty or position, then you must take action. Earning the right to lead demands that you continue to learn, grow, and adapt, and that you achieve competency.

Next week, we examine the topic of character in the right-to-lead model. Even the most competent leaders will fail to bring their skills and abilities to bear if their character is flawed.