For a different look at leadership

What competencies make up leadership? How much of leadership is technical as opposed to social or interpersonal?

Competencies are behaviours: for professionals, executives, consultants, leaders, all competencies can be grouped into two sets:

  • non-people-related (or “hard”)  competencies include such behaviours as orientation to results (how determined we are towards achieving our goals), but also all sorts of technical skills required for our job, plus a number of additional competencies such as market knowledge and even strategic orientation.
  • soft competencies, instead, have to do with relating to other people, either to collaborate with colleagues or to influence them (what we call collaboration & influencing) or to lead a team (team leadership), or to change the way a group of people works (change leadership).

In the early stages of someone’s professional development, people-related skills appear relatively less developed, hence we tend to assess and select people on the basis of  hard competencies.  The early stages of one’s professional life are full of episodes where we realise that orientation to results and determination, or technical skills, were the basis of our progress.

After a certain point in life, though, those skills start to decline in absolute terms. At the same time, “social”, interpersonal skills, by then, take off. For best-in-class talent, they continue to grow over time. From that point onwards, growth in soft skills more than offsets the decline in hard skills

The sum of hard and soft competencies can then be measured, over the course of one’s life. The profile of this sum is a very interesting element to consider.

Effective leaders evidence, over time, a profile in line with the example in the following chart:


Over time, then, the “sum” of hard and soft skills is a proxy for leadership, as well as for one’s satisfaction. Both grow, from a certain point in time on, if we are able to more than compensate a decline in hard skills.

In other words, all of our incremental satisfaction, from a certain point on, depends entirely on our ability to grow interpersonally.

It’s people, again.

Tommaso Arenare

5 thoughts on “For a different look at leadership

  1. But what if the increase in soft skills derives from the decrease in hard ones? I mean, i wonder if it’s not a secret collective alliance between peers cooperating in not admitting that younger professionals with new competencies can do better than them? Just wondering, no answer yet….

    • Excellent angle to look at it, thank you. Hard skills decrease over time, we all get to realise it.

      This does not imply a rise in soft skills, though. People who get older but manage to grow their soft skills are exceptional team leaders, strong at motivating younger people, instead.

      Younger professionals will always have better technical competencies… Even better, all of us, at a given age, will be technically less effective than we used to be.

      The key challenge, then, is how to build proper soft skills over time, learning how to foster and develop them. I will focus on this in a coming post, perhaps. Thanks.

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