Skills Approach to Leadership

skills approachIn this article we will discuss the skills approach to leadership. This approach is similar to the trait approach to leadership but is also different because in trait approach we focused on personality traits that are considered inherent whereas in skills approach the focus is on person’s skills and abilities that can be learned and developed.

What is Leadership Skills Approach?

Another approach in the Leadership studies is the “Leadership Skills Approach”. In the previous articles we focused on the “Traits Approach to Leadership” which was based on the personality of the leader, this approach focuses on knowledge and abilities that the leader has. This theory assumes that a leader can learn and develop certain skills that can transform one into a successful leader. Like the earlier Trait Approach this approach also has leader centered perspective.

Skills suggest what leaders can achieve, learn and develop whereas traits suggest who they are based on their intrinsic characteristics which they gain by the virtue of birth. The skills approach suggests that the skills, knowledge, and abilities that are required for a leader to be successful can be acquired thorough training and development.

What are skills?

A skill is the learned capacity to carry out pre-determined results often with the minimum outlay of time, energy, or both. In other words the abilities that one possesses. The dictionary defines skills as “An ability and capacity acquired through deliberate, systematic, and sustained effort to smoothly and adaptively carryout complex activities or job functions involving ideas (cognitive skills), things (technical skills), and/or people (interpersonal skills).”

What is Competence?

Competence (or competency) is the ability of an individual to do a job properly. A competency is a set of defined behaviors that provide a structured guide enabling the identification, evaluation and development of the behaviors in individual employees. Competence indicates sufficiency of knowledge and skills that enable someone to act in a wide variety of situations. Because each level of responsibility has its own requirements, competence can occur in any period of a person's life or at any stage of his or her career.

Leadership as a Skill:

By leadership skills we refer to the essential skills needed for successful leadership. Skills are graded sequences of actions directed to a purpose. At the center of the development of all skills are acts that are absolutely necessary for the effective practice of that skill. Research over many years has shown that there are several key activities that are essential to effective interactions between managers, their staff and their organizations and these activities are generally referred to as Leadership Skills.

Different Types of Skill Approach to Leadership:

Researchers have studied leadership skills and abilities for a number of years and proposed various theories to understand the process of leadership. However, two models that standout in the skills approach to leadership is:

1. Model proposed by Robert Katz in 1955

2. Model proposed by Michael Mumford and colleagues in the year 2000

These models can be seen as complimentary to each other, since they offer different views on leadership from the skills point of view. We will explore these models in the next articles in this series.

Advantages of Skills Approach to Leadership:

The practical and theoretical implications of regarding leadership as something that is constituted of some human skills that can be learned and developed are considerable. All skills have at their core components that are essential for their performance, and once a manager acquires required competencies in these areas they will become effective leaders too.

The biggest advantage of this approach is the assumption that leadership is not just by birth, that some people born with specific traits can only be effective leaders. This approach implies that many people have leadership potential, and if they get the requisite training, can focus on development of certain skills and can learn from their experiences, they can become more effective leaders.

This means that trainings can be designed involving activities and/or exposure to leadership circumstances and events that can lead to increase in skills, knowledge, and abilities.

Personality certainly plays an important role in leadership; this approach identifies and defines certain knowledge areas and abilities that are essential for effective leadership. Use of this approach has resulted in a comprehensive skill-based model of leadership that is used widely by organizations all over the world for advancement of leadership skills of their employees.

Skills Management:

This approach resulted in the concept of “Skills Management” which is the practice of understanding, developing and deploying people and their skills. Well-implemented skills management identifies the skills that job roles require, the skills of individual employees, and any gap between the two. Firstly the skills involved are defined in terms of a skills framework, also known as a competency framework or skills matrix. This consists of a list of skills, and a grading system, with a definition of what it means to be at particular level for a given skill. Then individuals assess and update their recorded skill sets regularly which provides a structured approach to developing individual and collective skills, and gives a common vocabulary for discussing skills. 

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