Typical competency models suggest that as a leader progresses to more senior roles in an organisation they need to develop and demonstrate different skills. Frequently team leaders are expected to demonstrate skills that are focussed on achieving day to day results, whereas senior executives might be expected to focus more on strategy and long term planning.


This intuitively makes sense, as it is based on the assumption that once people develop a skill they will continue to use it. However a recent study conducted by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman suggests that there are a set of skills fundamental to every level of leader.


They spoke to over 330,000 bosses, peers and team members about what skills have the greatest impact on a leader’s success in the position the respondents currently hold. The respondents were asked by Zenger and Folkman to select the four top competencies out of a list of 16 that they provided to them. They then compared the results for managers at different levels.


What Zenger and Folkman discovered was that there was a remarkable consistency in the data regarding the most important competencies needed by supervisors, middle managers, senior managers as well as executives.


The top 7 competencies that were voted as the most important for all management positions in priority order are:



What Leadership Skills Do You Need Most?


1 Inspires and motivates others 38%
2 Displays high integrity and honesty 37%
3 Solves problems and analyses issues 37%
4 Drives for results 36%
5 Communicates powerfully and prolifically 35%
6 Collaborates and promotes teamwork 33%
6 Builds relationships 30%



Their work shows some alignment with the findings of Kouzes and Posner detailed in their book ‘The Leadership Challenge’ when they identified the following characteristics that followers admire in their leaders:


  1. Honesty – demonstrates integrity
  2. Competent – challenges, enables and encourages others
  3. Forward looking – envisions the future
  4. Inspiring – enthusiastic, energetic and positive about the future.
  5. Communicates clearly.


Fundamentally Zenger and Folkman have demonstrated that there are a set of skills that are critical to a leader throughout their career. They also found that it’s not enough for a leader to be promoted into a more senior role before they develop particular skills (e.g. strategic, perspective).


Managers want to see that these skills are demonstrated before they promote.


So it is useful to ask yourself which competencies are most critical for you right now. But it’s also critical to ask yourself which competencies are going to be most critical in the future or the next level job. Demonstrating those skills in your current job provides evidence that you will be successful in the next job.