Determining leader role requirements
The traditional method for understanding role requirements is through analysis of job duties and tasks via a job analysis (Harvey, 1991; Sanchez & Levine, 2012). While traditional job analysis is commonly used to build detailed success profiles in most assessment contexts, it is not particularly well suited to the leader development context (Campion et al., 2011; Dierdorff et al., 2009) for two reasons. First, leader roles are ambiguous, complex and dynamic, and cannot easily be converted into detailed task lists (Thornton et al., 2010). Second, the focus of leader development efforts are to prepare individuals for broad leader roles, not a specific job or position (Hollenbeck, McCall & Silzer, 2006). Therefore, the narrowly defined task lists that are the level of analysis for traditional job analysis are less likely to represent the nature of a leader’s work. Broad role expectations and how that role contributes to organizational strategic success, now and in the future, is more reflective of the work of leaders (Howard & Thomas, 2010; Schneider & Konz, 1989) and the intent of leader development.
As a result, competency modelling emerged as an alternative to job analysis for understanding the role requirements and related attributes for leader roles (Hollenbeck et al., 2006). Although the definition varies, generally speaking competencies are clusters of knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviours and attitudes that differentiate success from failure in a given role (Spencer, McClelland & Spencer, 1994). There are a number of key differences between competency modelling and job analysis (Stone, Webster & Schoonover, 2013). For example, competency modelling can be described as more deductive (i.e., the process starts with the outcomes a leader needs to accomplish and then determines the role requirements, tasks, behaviours and KSAOs that enable the accomplishment these outcomes), whereas traditional job analysis is more like an inductive approach, starting with job tasks and KSAOs then building up to the job. Furthermore, competency models often describe how competencies may vary depending on the level of the employee and are typically linked to the organizational strategy or overall business objectives, whereas job analysis focuses very directly on the specific tasks an individual performs.
There are numerous advantages to using competency modelling in the context of leadership development. With a top-down approach, competency modelling helps to translate the strategic priorities of an organization into leader role requirements, as reflected by competencies. Also, as a person-centred approach (as opposed to the job-centred approach of traditional job analysis), competency modelling also fits the purpose of leader development context better; preparing individuals for the broad roles involved in leadership, and not limited to specific jobs.
On the other hand, there are some possible disadvantages to using competency modelling in the context of leadership development. Despite its widespread use and popularity, debate continues about the suitability of competency modelling (Hollenbeck et al., 2006; Sanchez & Levine, 2012; Shippmann et al., 2000; Stone et al., 2013). The debate centres on how competency modelling is being conducted, as well as on broader concerns about the usefulness of competencies themselves to understanding either leader role requirements or the attributes that enable leaders to perform those roles. One of the most common complaints is that of implementation; the competency modelling process lacks rigour and validation (Shippmann et al., 2000; Stone et al., 2013). On a more conceptual basis, there are also concerns that competency models are too general and therefore not precise enough for such uses as determining what to assess (Campion et al., 2011). There are also complaints that competency models are too simplistic and miss the contextual complexity of leader behaviour in micro-contextual situations (Hollenbeck, 2009). In other words, while single sets of behaviours on a production line can produce a quality set of results, the linkage between traits, behaviours and results becomes much less clear as we progress through the ranks. In senior leadership positions success can come in seemingly infinite guises. The underlying suggestion is that competency modelling may not be ideal for understanding the attributes that lead to leader success and that behaviour may ultimately be the wrong focus for leader roles.
Beyond the question of whether competency modelling is superior to job analysis in the context ofassessing leadership development, it may also be worth considering a combination of the two, or even alternative approaches. Schippmann and colleagues (2000) suggest that a merger of competency modelling and job analysis may be the most effective solution. There are other possible alternatives, among them strategic job modelling (Schippmann,
1999), role-based work analysis (Dierdorff et al., 2009) and a more rigorous approach to competency modelling as described by Campion and colleagues (2011).
All these approaches may be helpful in translating role requirements for leadership development into relevant attributes. However, an understanding of the leadership literature and various theories and frameworks can also be very informative in helping to determine attributes that enable leaders to perform their required roles. In the next subsection we provide a brief overview of a number of relevant perspectives from the leadership literature that may be particularly helpful towards this end.