Leaders need to go one step beyond competencies and technical skills. What sets great leaders apart from average ones?

This article is based on research by Josep M. Lozano

A study by Esade Professor Josep M. Lozano warns that leadership shouldn't be only about acquiring competencies and technical skills, but must also involve developing inner awareness and values.

"Leadership cannot be understood solely from a technical or instrumental perspective. It is not a mere relational skill that simply requires developing competencies. The exercise of leadership should include a connection with values," writes Lozano in the Journal of Business Ethics.

Good leadership is impossible without a personal process

According to the author, good leadership is impossible without a personal process that develops the person's capacity for perception, learning and inner reflection.

The author argues that educating business leaders cannot consist solely of the "knowing component" (theories, models and frameworks) and the "doing component" (skills, competencies and techniques). Rather, leaders also need to develop the "being component" (values, beliefs and self-awareness).

If business education only takes into account the first two components but not the being aspect, the researcher warns, it runs the risk of producing highly intelligent, accomplished leaders who have no idea what they want to do with their lives: no sense of purpose and, what is worse, no understanding of how to go about finding one.

Business education needs to take into account the being component

"Before students or managers can embark on developing their leadership abilities, they must take a look at themselves. They need to identify their inner core, or higher self, which can effectively guide them through turbulent times," says Lozano.

"An integration of body, mind, heart and soul is an important pathway to strengthening such an inner connection. While most students find it easy to connect to their inner place of stillness and meaning, only those who train in self-reflection can develop a solid connection to their core that can resist fear, pressure and uncertainty."

The 4 components of leadership

Leaders who want to be consistent with their values should take into account these four main components:

  1. Not only the leader's competencies and skills, but also their human and moral quality.
  2. Not only the followers' characteristics and involvement, but also their connections, their commitments and their values.
  3. Not only the formulation of the project's aims, but also the ethical coherence and foundation of the project's inherent values.
  4. Not just the success in achieving the project's purpose and objectives, but also the means used to achieve them.

"Thinking about leadership and working on its development requires acting on the four levels and developing the abilities to integrate them," says Lozano. However, a question immediately emerges about the most appropriate way to provide an education that focuses on leadership and makes this integration possible.

Whole leaders

Leadership education, the author states, shouldn't be limited to training a leader: "Rather than simply training people to become leaders, the ideal would be to educate students to ensure that they become whole persons. This is based on the assumption that the ideal complete person will in the future be a competent, aware person who is capable of compassion and well educated in solidarity."

There is a need for a much more holistic management education 

The findings suggest that there is a need for a much more holistic management education that can enable students to make sense of the world and their place in it, preparing them to use knowledge and skills as a means to engage responsibility with the life of their times.

"We want graduates who are ready to be leaders, who show concern for society and the world, who want to put an end to global hunger and conflict, who understand the need for a fairer distribution of munificence, and who look for a way to end sexual and social discrimination," says Lozano. "In short, we want our graduates to be leaders-to-serve."

Life's purpose

The key to understanding leadership in a turbulent world is purpose. The purpose guiding one's own life (and that of the organisation) is a key element of good leadership.

"Business schools run the risk of finding themselves in the opposite camp: taking for granted that all the students arrive with their own purposes and that these cannot be questioned," says Lozano.

The author suggests that business schools should accompany all students and explicitly help students to confront their own creation of purpose rather than merely receiving knowledge, competencies and skills.

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