Thursday, March 4, 2010

From Leadership Styles to Core Competencies

The Four Fundamental Leadership Styles

XLM4StylesMotojpeg269x269In a previous blog ( ), we discussed the four fundamental leadership styles that help leaders think about the primary dimensions of leadership - daily tasks and interactions (Rational, Visionary, Commanding, and Empowering; seen here). We pointed out that how well you think about issues is crucial because the quality of your thinking dictates the effectiveness of your decisions, which determines your actions, thereby creating your results. Simply put, better leadership results require better thinking about the tasks and interactions needed to achieve your goals and conquer your challenges.

Leading by Managing the Tension of Leadership 
The four styles are placed in an interdependent and opposing relationship in this model because many leadership challenges are paradoxical – they require that you think about opposing and conflicting issues at the same time. For example, do you ever feel the tension between empowering others ("I care about engaging the team") and commanding them ("I need you to be accountable for these results")? Do you ever feel pulled between being a visionary thinker ("Let’s explore the future and think about the big picture") and a rational thinker ("Let's exploit the present and focus on what needs doing today")? Most leaders need to manage these types of tensions every day. This model provides a process to help you think about these paradoxical issues. Remember, we defined leadership as the “process of unleashing the energy of people toward worthy goals.” Most leaders don’t even have a process. Now, you do.

Making Better Leadership Decisions 
You can begin making better decisions today if ask yourself if you have thought about all four styles as you weigh your options. For example, a senior vice president recently told me that he brings the model to all his meetings to make sure he is reminded to consider his weaker style during discussions. I also received the following e-mail from a project leader who read an article about using this model:


I am currently faced with a tough decision as to what to recommend on a construction project that I am managing. The XLM outline is helping me to sort out the options, which are complex and involve political as well as financial considerations… Thank you.

From General Styles to Specific Competencies
In addition to summarizing leadership tasks and interactions, there is another reason I selected these four general styles. I’ve been studying effective leadership and teaching leaders how to apply the research for decades. At one time, my office walls were covered in spreadsheets, as I searched for a simple, but not simplistic, approach to make sense of all the data. A pattern emerged from my analysis that relates to the four leadership styles – most of the competencies tended to relate to one of the leadership styles. The model therefore, not only confirmed our conclusions regarding leadership dimensions and sides, it synthesized the mountainous research hundreds of scientist who have explored how exceptional leaders achieve extraordinary results.

All this research involving so many competencies presents a problem: How do we translate all these data into a practical and predictive model that you can use easily? The key was to select a few effective core competencies for each style. Because there are dozens of competencies, this was no easy task. Pick too many, the model is not practical; pick too few, it’s not predictive. Einstein reminded us to strive to balance simplicity and complexity when he said, “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

To address difficult issues like this, I find it useful to clarify the criteria that I should use to make the selections. Listed below are the criteria I used to decide which four core competencies to include for each of the four fundamental leadership styles:

  • Predicts Success – Is there evidence that leaders who use it achieve better results?
  • High Demand – Do high-level executives say they need it to achieve their goals?
  • Low Supply – Is this competency relatively hard to find?
  • Learnable – Is it relatively easy to improve this behavior?

Using these criteria, I was able to distill all the data into the eXpansive Leadership Model (XLM) seen in . Within each of the four fundamental styles are the four core competencies that describe the specific behaviors that my research shows exceptional leaders demonstrate.

The eXpansive Leadership Model (XLM)


The Stem Cells of Leadership
Think of the XLM as the stem cells of high-performing leaders. I use the stem cell analogy because stem cells have the incredible ability to develop into different cell types. In the years that I have been teaching and coaching leadership, I have helped leaders at all levels of diverse organizations apply these competencies. For example, how and what a CEO monitors closely (one of the competencies of the rational style) is different from a front-line supervisor’s approach to this behavior. While the CEO might be monitoring global trends and the competition, the supervisor is probably more focused on the production of her team. Thus, like stem cells, these competencies differentiate to meet the needs of various environments.

In addition to their ability to morph into different cell types, stem cells also can serve as an internal repair system. They are your very own resident handyman (or as is the case in my house, handywoman. My wife fixes everything… I couldn’t fix a brick!) Well, the XLM can also mend some of your leadership issues, if you assess your needs. ( ) Prescription without diagnosis is malpractice.

In summary, the XLM is a highly researched model that provides a practical process to help you think expansively about the many complex issues you confront every day. Expansive thinking leads to better decisions, thereby producing better results. The best way to learn about the four styles and their four competencies, as well as how you can further develop them, is to take the XLM assessment, and then read your 25-page personal report.

Keep eXpanding,

P.S. Dave Jensen is a Senior Lecturer and leadership coach at Emory University’s School of Business and president of his own training/coaching firm. He and his team transform proven leadership tools into your success stories. Dave is also a popular speaker at conferences, meetings, and workshops. He can be reached in Los Angeles, CA at (310) 397-6686 and

P.S.S. Click on the link below (or paste it into your browser) to read about or take the XLM assessment.

No comments: