You can divide leadership competency into three areas: what the leader knows (knowledge), demonstrated abilities (skills) and actual behaviors (actions). This model advocates that a good leader needs all three (knowledge, skills, and actions) to demonstrate competency. For example, a leader may have a wealth of knowledge but never apply it appropriately in solving real world issues. Another leader may have good basic interpersonal skills but lack critical knowledge and expertise to inform them in making critical decisions. Another leader may have all the knowledge and skills but due to anxiety and fear does not act in a timely manner to provide effective leadership. A competent leader by this definition then is a knowledgeable leader of demonstrated skill who acts in a timely and appropriate manner.
You can further divide knowledge into interpersonal knowledge, conceptual knowledge, technical and tactical knowledge. Interpersonal knowledge is about understanding people and how to work with them. Interpersonal concepts include coaching, teaching, counseling, motivating and empowering. Conceptual knowledge is an understanding of the broad principles and ideas required to lead. Conceptual knowledge includes judgment, creativity, reasoning, analytical thinking, critical thinking and ethical reasoning. Technical knowledge relates to the narrower job related abilities needed to accomplish specific assigned tasks and functions. These might include computer skills, knowledge of laws and regulations or operations of proprietary systems. Tactical knowledge is an understanding of appropriate principles and models in the employment of people, teams, and actions where most appropriate.
A skill is a demonstrated ability. This is different than reading about a subject. For example, I had read a lot about flying and thought this would make me a great pilot. My first time in the air with an instructor clarified for me the difference between knowledge and skills. Reading about landing an aircraft is far different than actually doing so in a slight cross wind, in the rain, at a strange airport with a dozen strangers looking to see if you will bring the ship down in one piece.
Having knowledge about leadership is like just reading about flying. If it takes flying to learn to fly, it takes placing yourself in leadership roles to learn to lead. Actions are the behaviors we exhibit and generally are what members of our team observe. From our actions the team members speculate about our knowledge and abilities. It is during real world leadership challenges and opportunities that we can take our knowledge and abilities and act upon them. They will see for themselves if we really can fly or if we will crash and burn.
In summary, it is important for each leader to take an inventory of the knowledge, skills and actions required for competence and to compare that list with they actually know and do. Go and lead.
William H. Snow, Ph.D.