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  Competent to Lead 

Cardona Soriano, Pablo; García-Lombardía, P.
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Throughout the 20th century, the employer-employee relationship was governed by an implicit contract that offered employment security provided certain results were obtained. Over the last quarter of a decade, however, that paradigm has slowly declined and today is practically obsolete. Expectations have turned to what is known as employability: workers expect companies to help them maintain (or enhance) their employability in the labor market. For their part, companies are increasingly aware that posting good results this year or next is not enough; if they want to achieve good results in the future, they need to continuously develop talent.

In response to this paradigm change, more and more companies are starting to enrich their people management systems by switching from management by objectives to a system that encompasses both objectives and competencies. At least, that is what they should be doing, according to Pablo Cardona y Pilar García-Lombardía, authors of the book "Cómo desarrollar competencias de liderazgo" ("How to Develop Leadership Competencies").

According to the authors, in management by competencies "it is the tasks that adapt to the people, depending o­n the competency profile of each person who works in the organization".

At the heart of this new form of organization is a definition of the company's mission; because the most important processes, such as promotion, selection and training, revolve around that mission.

Cardona and García-Lombardía explain that management by competencies is not intended as a substitute for management by objectives, but as a complement, o­ne that adds information about how the objectives are to be accomplished. For that to be possible, the competencies should reflect the company's cultural values and mission.

Management competencies
The concept of competencies came into use in the early seventies with the work of McClelland. It encompasses all the experience-related factors in cognitive processes or personality traits that allow us to make reliable predictions about career success. In the nineties, Woodrufe defined competencies as "observable" -and therefore measurable- behaviors. More recently, IESE Professors Núria Chinchilla and Pablo Cardona have argued that for such behaviors to qualify as competencies, they must be "habitual and action-oriented", which implies that they are not innate characteristics, but factors that individuals can modify.

Cardona and García-Lombardía base their study o­n the anthropological model of IESE Professor Juan Antonio Pérez-López, for whom the executive function consists of "designing strategies that produce economic value, developing the capabilities of co-workers, and building trust in the organization."

Thus, the authors define three broad classes of management competencies: business competencies, aimed at creating economic value for the company (knowledge of the industry and the organization, management capabilities and negotiating skills...); interpersonal competencies, aimed at developing the capabilities of co-workers and helping them to improve their performance at work (communication, delegation and everything to do with interpersonal relations); and personal competencies, aimed at building trust in co-workers and persuading them to identify with the organization (habits of self-leadership that foster professionalism and exemplary behavior in a manager). The authors present a directory of the 25 basic competencies that make up the job of a manager.

Diagnose to learn, measure to improve
Those competencies have a major impact o­n the company's results, but they cannot easily be measured using a simple evaluation of objectives. The fact is that a manager may obtain good economic results by acting o­n his own, taking advantage of the work done by his team or exploiting existing customer relationships. His results may earn him a favorable assessment; and yet, that apparent success in the short term may have been achieved at the expense of medium and longer-term performance. To put it another way: it is no longer enough to evaluate the "what" of an action; we also need to consider the "how".

As competencies are habits, developing them involves continually practicing the target behaviors. Naturally, that requires thorough self-knowledge and a willingness to accept criticism and learn from feedback. The first step in developing any competency, the authors explain, is to become aware of the need for improvement. That can be achieved through an external diagnosis. Then, it will be possible to draw up an improvement plan. And based o­n that plan, the competency must be practiced, consciously and with effort at first, until eventually it becomes an unconscious habit.

The book contains a review of the methods most commonly used to measure people's management competencies. They include self-assessment and various forms of external evaluation (90º, 180º and 360º feedback, depending o­n whether the subject's competencies are evaluated by his immediate boss, his boss and subordinates, or his boss, subordinates and colleagues). In the latter two cases, the authors point out, it is vital that the evaluation process be confidential and anonymous.

Whatever tool the company chooses to use, the important thing is to respect the spirit of improvement that makes this type of evaluation meaningful. The authors insist that the purpose of the evaluation should be to "help the person to discover his strengths and areas for improvement, so that his efforts to acquire competencies have a better chance of success".

The action plan to improve competencies should identify a small number of objectives o­n which efforts should be concentrated. Then, between three and five SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-limited) actions should be chosen for each objective and a time frame established for completion. Lastly, a monitoring system must be put in place to measure progress at daily or weekly intervals.

Better in company
Although it is true that a person may develop competencies o­n his own, it is equally true that he may fall victim to his own ignorance in certain areas or be unable to resist discouragement when learning becomes difficult. That is where management by competencies can help, as it assumes that the employee has the support of his supervisor throughout the development process. Besides developing his subordinates, the manager also is responsible for his own development.

This process, based o­n a relationship of trust and commitment, is what is known as coaching. As it is a personal relationship, it must be adapted to suit the profile, circumstances, expectations and interests of the coachee. "Given that coaching is essentially a process of communication between two people, the style of coaching will depend o­n the personalities of those involved."

Cardona and García-Lombardía go o­n to describe four coaching styles, based o­n the needs and goals of the person who receives guidance: support (to overcome deep-rooted habits and replace conformism with a desire to improve); excellence (to reinforce known strengths and replace complacency with an aspiration to personal excellence); reinforcement (to improve self-esteem and concentrate o­n improvement areas); and radical (to improve self-knowledge and develop an attitude of openness to change and learning).

At the same time, various levels of coaching can be distinguished, depending o­n the type of competencies to be developed. Business competencies should be developed through technical coaching, which will be occasional, with professional feedback and an emphasis o­n information. Interpersonal and personal competencies, in contrast, are best developed through specific coaching, which will be periodic or continuous, with an emphasis o­n training or self-examination, as the case may be.

The book also contains a series of reflections o­n the skills of a good coach. Basically, they can be summed up as follows: inspire high ideals, set high standards, be honest when giving feedback, be disciplined in monitoring progress, be passionate about developing others, and show empathy in listening to each person?s problems and recognizing his or her limits.

The last chapter is devoted to personal leadership, understood as "the ability to lead o­ne's life in accordance with principles derived from a sound understanding of the world and of o­neself, and so achieve a good life, that is to say, a stable and profound inner happiness". Cardona and García-Lombardía believe that personal leadership can o­nly be acquired by defining a personal mission, a project that defines each person's identity and what he or she wants to achieve in life. Fulfilling that personal mission requires great strength of will and maturity, backed by a number of habits of character (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, but also self-esteem, deriving from self-knowledge).

In the appendix, the authors give a detailed, practical analysis of each of the competencies in the Directory: how to evaluate them, how to improve them, and what types of behavior define each o­ne. The book thus ends o­n a highly practical note.

This article is based on:  Cómo desarrollar las competencias de liderazgo
Publisher:  Eunsa
Year:  2005
Language:  Spanish