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The Competencies and Constraints That Determine Leadership Success

What are the competencies and constraints that determine leadership success?

Written by: Pawel Korzynski
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As a leader, you may sense the heavy mantle of work to be done, employees to motivate, bosses to impress, organisational culture to manoeuvre. Most leadership theories place all these burdens squarely on your shoulders: How you handle them all is entirely up to you. Concepts such as transparent leadership neglect external factors. Although leaders may be highly talented individuals, they are constrained by their environment and their own internal conditions.

Rather than making leaders solely responsible for their own effectiveness, we can allow a balance between managerial competences and the many constraints that limit leaders. With bounded leadership, we look past the leader’s characteristics and consider the many constraints they encounter at the individual, team, organisational and stakeholder levels.

Co-written with Andrzej Krzysztof Kozminski, Anna Baczynska and Michael Haenlein, our article in the European Management Journal found that leaders’ competencies are not enough for them to be effective. Our study of middle-level managers in Poland included 97 participants, around 57 percent of whom were men. Using focused questionnaires, we found clear indicators of their competencies and constraints. When we matched certain competencies with a specific set of constraints, we cleared the path for leaders to increase their effectiveness.

In bounded leadership, we see five distinct abilities leaders require to be effective:

  • Anticipation competence: The ability to predict market patterns and conditions, which are essential to the organisation, such as future trends or customer needs
  • Mobilisation competence: The ability to inspire employees to put an extraordinary effort into their work
  • Self-reflection competence: The ability to analyse past experiences and draw useful conclusions
  • Values-creation competence: The ability to promote a leader’s values in the organisation
  • Visionary competence: The ability to create an attractive vision of the organisation, communicate this vision to followers and empower them to implement it

Each of these competencies presents several hurdles. We have narrowed these down to the following constraints: cultural (difficulties in changing values and norms), emotional (strong negative emotions that prevent rational behaviour), entitlement (formalised organisational responsibilities and hierarchy), ethical (leaders’ dilemmas), informational (difficulties in processing or collecting data), motivational (problems with inspiring others) and political (office politics and power plays).

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