The Competent Leader

May 23, 2022 9 Min Read
a competent leader serves others

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A Competent Leader Serves and Empowers Their Team

In the introduction of The Purposeful Leadership Series, we described the Purposeful Leader as a leader with purpose and is intentionally living out his/her purpose. Purposeful leaders are confident and secure in who they are; competent with a servant-heart in what they do; and act as a catalyst to spur others into future possibilities.

Part 1 of The Purposeful Leadership Series speaks about The Confident Leader. A Confident Leader is one who knows his/her identity. Because they know who they are, they can be secure and lead with confidence. 

In Part 2, we will touch on the Competent Leader. A competent leader is skillful in what they do; and use their knowledge, skills and abilities to serve others.

To be a skillful leader, one must be diligent and self-disciplined. If you’re not prepared to put in the work, you are not going to see the results. Achieving mastery does not happen overnight. It comes from a learning mindset through accumulated experiences and acquired “battle scars''. Angela Duckworth describes how people with a growth mindset look at challenges as learning opportunities. Together with grit and resilience, they combine to enable the leader to persevere and overcome challenges and achieve mastery. 

The Competent Leader uses the mastery of skills to serve others. Their acquired knowledge, skills and experiences are put to use by helping others become better leaders. This act of serving others is best described as servant-leadership by Ken Blanchard. The leader is there not to bark instructions and lord over the people, but rather to serve them. Blanchard describes this enabling role as an inverted pyramid. As a leader, my desire is to equip, engage and empower leaders to lead better. Through Invigorate, we serve people and organisations and enable them to be a better version of themselves by connecting purpose and creating value for leaders. 

So how does the Competent Leader serve others? The Competent Leader serves others by shifting from telling to communicating, translating intention into action, and willingly passing the credit and taking responsibility.

1. Telling to Communicating

Telling is one-way while communicating ensures the message is received and understood (two-way). But what exactly does a Competent Leader communicate? I believe the three most important things for a Competent Leader to communicate are the past, the present and the future. 

The past reminds us of our heritage. Something good must have happened to enable us to be where we are today. Whatever your past is, recognise and learn from it, celebrate and be grateful for it; but don’t dwell on the past. Living in the past creates a sense of regret that can easily stifle the present (and the future). A Competent Leader speaks of past experiences with “battle scars” to show. Scars are formed when wounds have healed, not while it is still an open wound. They remind us of what took place, but it doesn’t hurt us today.

The present provides context. In any given situation, a Competent Leader must know his/her present position. Only then will you be able to navigate. Conversely, not knowing where you are will only frustrate you further. When performing a gap-analysis, understanding the as-is is as important as the to-be. Knowing what will remain and what needs to change is critical in understanding the present. 

The future paves the way forward. The paved pathway provides a vision and direction, leading to a sense of anticipation and excitement. Without the future, it will only lead to circular references and continuous motion of meaningless actions. The anticipation and excitement is filled with a sense of hope - something not yet seen, but there is a belief that it will (soon) be realised. 

When Competent Leaders shift from telling to communicating, their focus is on serving the people they lead, and not themselves. They look at the past with gratitude, analyse the present through microscopic lenses, and galvanise the future with a compelling vision. Melissa Reiff, CEO of Container Store (2016-2021) describes what hasn’t changed since she took over the role from founder and long-time CEO Kip Tindell - the commitment to “conscious capitalism” and its servant leadership-driven culture. “Having witnessed my share of leadership train wrecks over the years, I was most impressed with the principle of “Communication IS Leadership”. The Container Store remains one of the best places to work with recognitions from Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For (2018), Great Place to Work 2017 (Diversity, Women) and Best Workplaces in Retail 2019 (Large).

2. Intention to action

The difference between intention and action is discipline. The latter produces outcomes while the former leaves you wondering. No amount of good intentions can translate into results if it doesn’t move you into action. I can read and research all I want about running a sub-20 minute 5k, buy the right shoes and wait for ideal weather conditions; but if I don’t put on my shoes and get one foot in front of the other continuously, all that remains is a dream, a lofty wish and desire.

The Competent Leader serves others by translating intentions into actions. Glen Mills may not be a household name; yet the Jamaican has overseen athletes to 71 world championships and 33 Olympic medals in 22 years  - including the fastest person on the planet - Usain Bolt.  

The Competent Leader is there to inspire. After setting world records in the 100m and 200m events at the Beijing Olympics, Bolt praised Mills saying he not only helped him improve as an athlete but also as a person. Competent Leaders serve others by inspiring them to greatness and become a better version of themselves everyday. 

While inspiration is needed, coaching must follow. You need the discipline to do the drills and clock the mileage. Muscles don’t emerge by themselves. You need to grow them intentionally. The Competent Leader is there to work through the daily grind with the people they lead. To observe and provide pointers, to push and pull when necessary. Mills did just that for the athletes he raised to the podium positions.

Together with inspiration and coaching, the Competent Leader serves others by journeying with them. When asked about how leaders develop, Simon Sinek says “Leadership development is found in the consistency of learning and applying, not the intensity of attending a programme”. The Competent Leader is there to journey and help others do just that. They recognise leadership development is a journey, not a destination. Therefore, it is most effective when someone is with you on the journey. The Competent Leader intentionally engages the hearts and minds of people. Aligning and drawing them closer to their purpose and call as a leader. 

3. Passing credit and taking responsibility

In 2017, I had the privilege of visiting the John Maxwell Leadership Centre in Atlanta, Georgia (USA). On the wall of the boardroom are the words - Everything rises and falls on leadership - John C. Maxwell. It is true for every organisation in the world - for profit and not-for-profit, volunteer and paid staff, small to large enterprises, developed and developing nations. The burden of responsibility a leader carries is immense.

Leaders must be willing to share the credit and quick to take responsibility. By doing so, they instil confidence in stakeholders. Carl Bennet, the primary owner of Getinge AB (a global medical-technology company in Sweden), injected additional funds when things appeared to be going south. Today, Getinge is valued at many multiples from where it was. Carl is quick to attribute the success to the people who worked there. He may have played a pivotal role in jump starting some initiatives, but for the most parts, the team carried it through to success. “Anyone could have done it. It was a great company just waiting for somebody to care about it.” says Carl. 

Competent Leaders like Carl, serve others by taking the responsibility of caring for them, providing them with a role model in leadership and continuing to lead them. 

Leaders, like you and I, are ordinary human beings. When you strip away the titles and take away the accolades, we all breathe the same air and have 24-hours in a day. Like everyone, leaders need to be cared for. Whether it is expressed in the form of affirmation and encouragement or perhaps at times the needful rebuke and correction. The Competent Leader serves others by doing just that. They are not afraid of the heart and hard conversations. In my own leadership, I am reminded of the golden rule - praise in public, correct in private. When we care for others, we are there to raise them and build them, not tear them down.

Related: How to Give Effective Feedback

The Competent Leader acts as a role model for others. They realise they are held to higher standards and more often than not, observed through the watchful eyes of many. Therefore, Competent Leaders are not self-serving and egotistical. They are quick to give credit where it is due, and take responsibility when needed. Another golden rule of mine in leadership - be quick to listen, slow to speak. Competent Leaders understand if they are right, they have nothing to prove; and if they are wrong, there is nothing to defend. By caring for others and being a role model to them, the Competent Leader becomes a leader to leaders.

The Competent Leader never gives up on others. I must admit, many times in my own leadership, this is one of the toughest things to do. When people are not responding the way they ought to, when leaders disappoint you and don’t meet expectations, when leaders fail you - how do you continue leading them? Yet, in those darkest moments, is when leadership is most needed. Competent Leaders serve others by standing with them throughout the good times and bad times. Their leadership is non-circumstantial or conditional, but rather anchored on a deep conviction in valuing people and seeking to add value to people always. 

Discover: The Key to Empowering Your Team

The Competent Leader is a skillful leader who serves others by shifting from telling to communicating, translating intention into action, and willingly giving credit and taking responsibility. Through a servant-leadership heart, Competent Leaders give themselves selflessly to helping others become better leaders. 

Be that Competent Leader!

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Bernard is the Founder of Invigorate Consulting, a firm seeking to connect people and organisations to their purpose. He has over 20 years of management consulting and corporate experience with global organisations. He is also a seasoned facilitator. He enjoys travelling and is excited about the second half of life.

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