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Leadership Competencies: A Framework for Leadership Assessment, Education and Research

The EvoLLLution | Leadership Competencies: A Framework for Leadership Assessment, Education and Research
In this era of change, higher education needs proven leaders to step up and guide their respective institutions forward. Of course, without a sense of what makes a great leader, these efforts will be threatened from the start.

This is excerpted from “Competencies for Effective Leadership: A Framework for Assessment, Education, and Research” by Ralph A. Gigliotti (Emerald Publishing).

This moment in time is a critical one for leaders of organizations across sectors. The volume of books, articles, TED talks and industry white papers on the subject of leadership and leadership development is extensive—and growing. Much of this work centers around discussions of what are presumed to be the required capacities, capabilities and competencies associated with successful leadership.

Effective leadership skills are increasingly valued in the workplace, and proficiency in these skills remains listed among the curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular goals of colleges and universities. There is widespread agreement that leadership matters, especially given the complexity of today’s interconnected and globalized environment and the constantly increasing array of situations in which coordinated action is critical.

That said, we continue to wrestle with epistemological questions about the phenomenon of leadership that require further attention. For example, do we know what we mean when we talk about leadership? Although there is a tendency to approach the subject with one’s own workplace, community or sector in mind, it is important to ask which components of leadership are sector-unique and which cut across contexts? Finally, in what ways does “knowing” about leadership intersect with the “doing” of leadership? These questions will become increasingly important as leadership skills become more essential in the workplace, classroom and community. Furthermore, as “leadership” becomes a general term for a broad range of behaviors and practices, the need persists for a systematic arrangement of the competencies associated with leadership. Such an arrangement must be comprehensive enough to embrace theory and practice, be applicable in multiple settings, and be able to differentiate generic horizontal leadership competencies from the vertical competencies that are context-specific (Ruben, De Lisi, & Gigliotti, 2017; Ruben & Gigliotti, 2017).

Leadership is essential for adequately addressing the challenges and opportunities contemporary organizations of all sizes and functions must navigate. Central to these challenges and opportunities are three issues that require attention from scholars and practitioners with an interest in leadership and leadership development: clarifying what we mean when we talk about leadership; defining capabilities that are essential to this definition; and developing methods for assessing and developing the knowledge and skills that flow from our understanding of what constitutes leadership.

Higher education is one sector currently experiencing significant disruption and, according to some pundits, the sector as a whole is on the cusp of dramatic change. The challenges colleges and universities must confront are widespread, including erosion of public trust, growing scrutiny from a wide array of internal and external stakeholders, a concerning and uncertain financial outlook, and ongoing issues related to access, affordability and adequate job preparation for students. Underlying these challenges lies the widely debated question of the core purpose of higher education as society continues to evolve.

These many challenges have the potential to blind us to the vast range of opportunities for institutions of higher education. For example, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce has done extensive research on the connections between education, career qualifications and the workforce. Their many reports and findings all point to the value of a college degree. In their recent study, “America’s Divided Recovery: College Haves and Have Nots,” Carnevale, Jayasundera, and Gulish (2016) found that more than 95% of jobs created during the post-recession recovery have been filled by college-educated workers, while those with a high school diploma or less are being left behind. For the first time, employees with a bachelor’s degree or higher comprise a larger share of the workforce (36%) than those with a high school diploma (34%). The future of higher education holds great promise, due in part to advancements in technology that have the potential to improve access to and quality of such an education, innovations in organizational quality and excellence, and the continued growth in the number of non-traditional students seeking a college credential (National Center for Education Statistics, 2018). Additionally, as public confidence wanes, colleges and universities are working to demonstrate their value by increasing their alignment with the workforce, helping students successfully transition from college to the workplace and evolving to meet the economic demands of the 21st century (Gallup, 2018). Finally, for some, the challenges facing colleges and universities provide an opportunity for creative leadership and novel solutions that might not otherwise be possible.

In many ways, these challenges and opportunities are not wholly unique to higher education. They represent a critical juncture for organizations of all kinds where leaders are being held more accountable, stakeholders find themselves more empowered, and our collective understanding of the contemporary organization undergoes a transformation. We could consider the many ways in which leaders in health care, government, nonprofits and business are navigating existential challenges while also taking advantage of present-day opportunities. Although we must exercise caution in treating this moment ahistorically (Spector, 2016), as if organizations have never faced such a dramatic array of existential challenges and promising opportunities, the need for effective leadership remains a critical topic for scholars and practitioners—and with this comes the need to more fully understand the competencies associated with leadership excellence.

This edited volume focuses on one competency model—Brent Ruben’s Leadership Competency Scorecard. The goal is to articulate and communicate the many ways in which a competency framework can be used within an organizational setting. Much of the discussion will focus on applications of the model within Rutgers University, but its use in other settings will also be explored.

As will be discussed throughout the text, the competency framework provides a simple and intuitive heuristic for understanding the study and practice of leadership. Furthermore, the Leadership Competency Scorecard highlights the intersection of knowledge and skill; addresses relevant themes emphasized across contexts, disciplines and sectors; remains applicable in professional, social and community settings; and proves useful for the development and preparation of individuals who aspire to and currently demonstrate leadership and social influence.

To borrow from Ruben’s (2006) original writing, “the purpose [of the Leadership Competencies Scorecard] … is to provide a literature-based framework that summarizes current thinking on the knowledge and skill set needed to address the complex array of challenges that awaits contemporary leaders and those involved with leadership development” (p. 3).

We have found the model to be a useful tool for individual coaching, group facilitation, and leadership, organizational and communication research. In many ways, the framework bridges theory and practice and the scorecard can inspire more deliberate thinking about leadership behaviors. As a broadly conceived framework, the assessment can be used in conjunction with other leadership assessments and inventories, as we have found to be advantageous in our leadership education efforts. Finally, the leadership competencies model can help us to better understand the challenges and limitations associated with the practice of selecting formal leaders whose experience is primarily within a sector, as well as those whose experience is based in institutions outside a sector for which the individual is being recruited.

This is excerpted from “Competencies for Effective Leadership: A Framework for Assessment, Education, and Research” by Ralph A. Gigliotti (Emerald Publishing).

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Carnevale, A. P., Jayasundera, T. & Gulish, A. (2016). America’s divided recovery: College haves and have nots. Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Retrieved from

National Center for Education Statistics. (2018). Characteristics of postsecondary students. Retrieved from

Ruben, B. D. (2006). What leaders need to know and do. Washington, DC: NACUBO.

Ruben, B. D., De Lisi, R., & Gigliotti, R. A. (2017). A guide for leaders in higher education: Core concepts, competencies, and tools. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Ruben, B. D., & Gigliotti, R. A. (2017). Are higher education institutions and their leadership  needs unique? Vertical and horizontal perspectives. Higher Education Review, 49(3), 27–52.

Spector, B. (2016). Discourse on leadership: A critical appraisal. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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