A Scientific Approach to Building a Leadership Competency Model

You can take a scientific approach to strengthening the leadership within your organization. You will need what’s called a leadership competency model. It’s the blueprint of the knowledge, skills, abilities and other attributes (KSAOs) that all employees of an organization need to succeed.

A well-designed competency model can help translate the organization’s values and vision into transparent KSAOs that serve to guide leadership development across all levels in an organization. These competencies can further be distilled into various HR policies that guide issues such as selection, training and performance appraisal. As a result of its value, it is crucial that a leadership competency model is built correctly.

What is the best way to build one for your organization? Today, we discuss the approach we used within the Fisher Leadership Initiative (FLI) at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business to develop a leadership competency model for one of our partners.

The first step is data gathering and preparation. Data may be gathered from many sources such as subject matter experts (SMEs), available information within the organization and online databases (e.g., O*NET). Our team of leadership experts at the FLI first suggested a set of individual KSAOs that are linked to leader effectiveness — based on decades of leadership research. After starting conversations with the organization’s executive board and HR specialists, a list of KSAOs that should be linked to leader effectiveness were determined and reflected the organizational goals, mission, values and strategy.

However, the process of building a leadership competency model does not stop with the list. The next step is to use scientific methods to examine whether or not the list of KSAOs can truly meet the organization’s needs of high leader performance. To achieve this goal, we need to check how well the competencies identified can predict leader performance.

Two methods are often used that differ in their scope and level of analysis: the bottom-up approach and the top-down approach. During the bottom-up approach, we assess the individual competencies identified earlier using a number of surveys and other instruments that attempt to tap the level of KSAO in numerous company leaders. We then gather leader effectiveness and performance data from different sources (subordinate, peer and supervisor) to use analytical methods to link these competencies to leader performance.

This data serves two purposes: 1) identifying the top KSAOs necessary for a given company’s leadership and 2) the gaps or areas where competencies may need improvement. This process is also combined with a top-down approach by working with executives and SMEs within the organization to ensure the core competencies that are directly related to the company’s business domain and in-line with their strategic initiatives. The top-down approach not only ensures buy-in at the most important level—executives—but also guarantees the competency model developed is viewed as appropriate and necessary for leadership within the organization.

By undergoing this systemic process, you—and most importantly, your organizational members—can have faith that the leadership competencies identified are necessary for future organizational success.

Last but not least, all the procedures described above required a lot of communication, feedback and cooperation between the FLI team and our partner in order to gather as accurate information as possible. In fact, our partner was actively involved in each step and offered their utmost assistance during this on-going project. With their collaboration, we were able to help build them a customized competency model that can be applied to their day-to-day operation.

How does your organization build its leadership competency model? If you have more questions, contact us at leadership@osu.edu for help!

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.