Soft skills are important, but competence is the core of becoming an extraordinary leader.
Warren Buffet said, “Look for three things in a person – intelligence, energy, and integrity. If they don’t have the last one, don’t even both with the first two.”
Read any leadership book, blog, or editorial and you will find a common theme in what people identify as characteristics of an extraordinary leader. They are trustworthy, visionary, able to inspire, innovate, and communicate. And, of course, they are intelligent and competent.
We tend to take competence in our leaders for granted – after all, how did they become a leader in the first place without being competent? Leadership writers and career coaches tend to focus more on improving the soft skills of leadership while glossing over the “hard skills” that make a leader competent. Though we all recognize that competence is at the root of becoming an extraordinary leader, we tend to overlook the need to develop this area of our leaders.
Competence, in this context, is defined as “the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.” You can have intelligence without skill, and experience without intelligence. But you can’t truly be competent without three key things:
Knowledge informs us, so we can make good decisions. Knowledge gives us facts, it gives us the theory of how something should work, so we have a practical understanding of the task, issue, etc. at hand. We build on our knowledge by reading blog posts like this, books, or enrolling in workshops or leadership development courses.
Skill is the application of knowledge. Skill is knowing what we know and using it over and over again until we become really good at doing it.
Experience happens when we use (and continually develop) our knowledge and skills repeatedly over time. Wisdom comes from experience.
When we use our knowledge and skills, applying them toward our experiences, our competence grows. With greater competence come a greater ability to successfully accomplish our goals as leaders, and as we accomplish more opportunities for greater challenges open up to us as well. Competence is the root that puts us on the path to leadership opportunities. Competence provides us the confidence to have the mindset of an extraordinary leader. When combined with other characteristics and skills, such as communication, negotiation, emotional intelligence, etc., we can continue to grow and develop as extraordinary leaders.