The Competent Leader

When we examine whether or not we should take on a leadership role or position, it is important that we examine whether or not we will be a competent leader for that position. It is not enough that we want to lead in a particular job or organization; we need to have the skills, knowledge and interest to lead in a particular position.

1. Decide Where You Want to Lead

The first thing you need to do is identify an industry or industries you are interested in leading. You can do this by sitting down and figuring out what areas/industries interest you.

For example, when I first sat down and did this exercise, a couple of industries that interested me were child & youth care, as well as leadership. A couple industries that did not interest me were clothing retail and chemical engineering. So, I would not look at clothing stores or a chemical engineering plant for a frontline leadership position. Be sure to start with a similar exercise if you are in search of a leadership position.

If you are already in a leadership position, you can also do this exercise. It will either reinforce to you that you are heading in the right direction or it will make you realize that you need to search other avenues for your leadership future that better fit your strengths, aspirations and desires.

2. Learn the Profession You Are Leading In

One of the biggest mistakes I see from some leaders is their unwillingness or lack of desire to learn the profession they are leading in. An example of this is a person coming from a business background not learning the ins and outs of running a set of treatment homes.

While there is a business component in running treatment homes, there are also the elements of dealing with families, clients and mental health issues. In such a case, it is important for the leader to have some knowledge of group care standards, as well as have a basic understanding of mental health issues. It is also important that leaders can converse with professionals in this area.

How do you do this? Well, if you are interested in leading within a particular industry, you can do the following:

  1. Read up on the area you are interested in. If you want to take on a leadership position that does not require you to have a background in that area, remember – if you can show that you have a bit of understanding in that area, you will gain respect from people working with you.

    For example, if you are a new Project Manager for an IT company, learn some IT terminology and its meanings. This does not mean you will throw out terms to show off. What this means is that you can better understand the dialogue between staff and you can engage in professional of conversations. This is another way you can show that you are a competent leader.
  2. Talk to people in your field of interest. If you know someone in an industry you are interested in becoming a leader in, talk with them. Find out if this is an area you want to lead in. Find out what others would want you to know if you were a leader in a particular field.

    What are industry standards? Do they have a particular model they follow such as the LEAN model? What regulatory bodies (e.g. certification standards, government regulations, etc.) control how an organization is run? Here is a quick tip: when you are called for an interview, ask the caller if there are certain documents you should go over prior to the interview. It shows interest in the position and you will get valuable information that will give you an edge during the interview.

3. Keep Learning While Leading

When you are leading, it is essential to be learning. Just as it is important to know your audience and understand the field you are working in (an ongoing process), it’s also necessary that you learn new skills.

If you have an understanding of the field you are leading in, this is great! You will still need to learn the industry from a leadership perspective; however you can spend more time developing your leadership skills. If you are leading in unfamiliar territory, your learning curve may be steeper; however, if you are coming in with leadership experience, this will help.

Whether it is leadership skills or learning the industry, you will be learning while you lead. As you become more knowledgeable within the area you are working in, your competence as a leader will shine through.

4. Ask for Support

As a new leader, either working in a familiar or unfamiliar industry, you will most certainly run into situations that you will need support with. This does not mean you are a bad leader. This just means that you have encountered a situation in which you need some help. In fact, if you are a leader that recognizes that you need some support, I say you are a self-aware leader which is one of the signs of a great leader.

What do you do if you need support? Ask for it from someone who is in the position to offer you the support needed to work through the situation.

For example, if you need help in understanding a particular decision that was made, go to that person who made the decision and talk with them. If you are unclear about a policy or procedure, ask your supervisor. If you need help with your leadership skills, seek out training or a leadership coach or mentor. When your team or organization sees that you are open to learning and growing and when you learn and grow as a result of guidance from others, people will respect these actions and view you as a competent leader.

I hope this article was helpful to you and your leadership journey. Please feel free to write your comments below and tell us what makes you a competent leader.

And to continue your leadership development and truly take advantage of all that leadership knowledge out there and put in practice, subscribe to our free newsletter.

John Maloney
John Maloney is a leadership instructor, a life coach and a contributing writer at Online Leadership Network. He has over 22 years of experience as a front line staff, team leader and program coordinator at a large non-profit organization, as well as a Masters Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with focus on Leadership in the 21st Century.


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