What Is a Leadership-Competency Framework?

A leadership-competency framework is a set of core competencies and skills that are considered most vital to a leader’s success within a given organization. These competencies help leaders improve their team members’ actions and behaviors to establish a high-performance culture. Moreover, all workforce members (not just leaders) can benefit from gaining awareness of the leadership-competency framework that has been adopted by their organization. Understanding what is expected of leaders can drive development pursuits and stretch assignments to help nurture and grow the next generation of leaders.

For leadership-competency frameworks to be successful, companies should place business trends and organizational objectives at the center. All businesses are not created equal; while some competencies may work well for some firms, they will not be an ideal fit for others. Therefore, it’s crucial for organizations to define and deploy distinctive competencies that pertain to their unique business model and strategic goals.

All in all, a leadership-competency framework should serve as a guide for prospective, aspiring, new, and seasoned leaders:

  • Job candidates who are well aligned with what the organization is looking for and are sought out through an effective recruiting and hiring process
  • Individuals who would like to advance into a leadership role
  • New leaders who need direction and guidance
  • Existing or seasoned leaders who are trying to refine their leadership capabilities or model effective leader behaviors for others in the organization

What Does the Process of Developing a Leadership-Competency Framework Entail?

Developing a leadership-competency framework requires mapping out a list of desired competencies, each with a list of supporting behavioral indicators.

You may consider organizing competencies into three main categories, such as those seen below:

  • Leading the self: This may include how a leader displays integrity, open-mindedness, self-awareness, and adaptability.
  • Leading others: This may entail how well a leader communicates and builds relationships and the amount of time they invest in developing others.
  • Leading the organization: This may involve the ability to manage change, solve problems, make decisions, take risks, and establish strategic objectives.

Once you have established which competencies you will focus on, you need to decide upon the criteria that will be used to measure a leader’s current skills within a given competency area as well as how progress in that area will be measured.

For example, the competency “open-mindedness” might include the following benchmarks:

  • How many times a leader meets with their team to exchange ideas
  • How receptive a leader is to new ideas and feedback
  • How often a leader requests or provides feedback

These competencies and their affiliated behavioral indicators can then be further organized by level of proficiency (for example, “at standard,” “strength,” and “area for development.”). Establishing metrics can help your team create a results-driven leadership-competency model that encourages workforce members to consistently learn and improve.

What Are the Benefits of Establishing a Leadership-Competency Framework?

Many organizations use a leadership-competency framework to outline and track key skills and traits they’d like their management team to exhibit. Overall, a leadership-competency framework offers a structured roadmap for defining and developing desired behaviors and skillsets.

Organizations with successful leadership-competency frameworks can realize numerous benefits:

  • Increased alignment across the workforce: A leadership-competency framework can establish standardization across team members so all leaders understand how to uphold company expectations, values, and goals.


  • Development of a future-ready organization: The framework can be used across all team members to develop the next generation of leaders, allowing organizational leaders to plan for the future and improve the viability of their business.


  • Enhanced productivity, consistency, and accountability: A thoughtfully constructed framework ensures that skills gaps are addressed, team members know what to expect from their leaders, and leaders are encouraged to continually grow and improve.

Together, these benefits can ultimately help strengthen an organization’s competitive advantage.

How Can Leaders Use a Leadership-Competency Framework to Improve Their Skills?

Building a leadership-competency framework that team members can use for guidance is primarily the responsibility of Learning & Development professionals and/or HR departments. After it is built, the manner in which a competency framework is deployed and the affiliated skills are assessed will vary across organizations.

Once leaders gain a sense of their baseline competencies, they may want to focus on developing the easier and more tangible competencies first and work up to building competencies that involve more complexity and ambiguity. They should also map out possible root causes and remedies for developing specific behaviors and skills that are challenging for them personally.

For example, if someone is focusing on a leadership competency called “action-oriented,” they should first assess whether they are skilled or unskilled in this area. In other words, are they slow to take action? Do they procrastinate? If the answer is yes, this may be a development area for that leader; he or she should try to identify root causes for the lack of skill in that area and then map out some possible solutions—and as we discussed earlier, competencies should have established metrics attached to them so that leaders can stay on track and remain accountable for the progress they make.

For further information and guidance regarding improving one’s leadership competencies, we recommend looking into “For Your Improvement” by Korn Ferry. This book explores 38 key competencies and tips for development. Here’s a preview.