Most of the time I write about what it takes to be a good or great leader. It's a topic many of us who write, teach or speak about leadership do. Yet, if we look at things properly, I think we all know that there will only be so many great leaders in the world. Why do I say that?

San Francisco LGBT
Community Center
via Compfight

Let's look at how the world breaks out financially. We always hear about the 1%, the richest of the rich, the elite people who have it all... or at least seem to have it all. It's a very exclusive club and it's hard to break into for the rest of us.

That leaves a humongous number of the rest of the population; we're the buyers and employees. The elite are the elite, but they can't do everything by themselves. The smartest people in the world, those who comes up with all these fancy things that improve our lives, can't build these things, or at least enough for everyone else to purchase. They need a lot of bodies to create their vision, some who will be workers, some who will be managers, or direct leaders of those folks. There will be other layers as well; that's just how society works.

I like to think that all companies want every one of their leaders to be rock stars. However, if they don't know already then I'm about to reveal a great truth; it's just not going to happen. All the training in the world won't make every leader great; yeah, I said that!

I recognized that decades ago when I was taking piano lessons. I knew early on that no matter how much I practiced, no matter how good I got, I was never going to be a classical pianist performing Beethoven with an orchestra on any stage, including in college. I got to be good, very good, better than a lot of piano players I met. A lot of piano players were better than me; that's just how it goes.

This begs the question about competence relating to leaders; is competent leadership good enough?

I think the answer is "it depends"; isn't that the classic copout? 🙂

Let's take a look at this concept. Let's look at heart surgeons for a moment.

This is a highly skilled and important career. Life or death is in the doctor's hands. Yet, there's never just the doctor in the room. There's often a second doctor, an anesthesiologist, and numerous nurses and technicians monitoring things such as blood pressure and brain waves.

You know what? With all the skills these people have, not all of them are great leaders; most of them are pretty poor at it. For that matter, some heart surgeons are better than others. Yet the skill level for all of them is pretty high. The competence level between the very best heart surgeon in the world and, well, maybe not the worst but maybe the 150th best might not be as wide as one might think.

If we look at levels of importance, very few companies can approach that level. This means that the level of competence for leaders might not need to be as high as it needs to be for good or great leaders. A competent leader can certainly get the job done, and in some circumstances might be what's needed to move things along.

What makes for a competent leader?

A competent leader knows how to follow the rules. This basically says that if there are processes that must be followed, no matter how loose or rigid, the leader knows how to make sure everyone sticks to the plan without wavering.

A competent leader knows how to be neutral. Everyone is treated the same; everyone gets a fair shake. There's deference to the person above them but they're held to the same fairness standard.

A competent leader can handle most problematic issues. Most issues that occur in business are minor; all they need is a little authority to get them corrected.

A competent leader doesn't need a lot of supervision. They need to be able to explain what's going on and need to keep things working, but you don't have to micromanage them. They come to work, do their job, and move on with life.

That's pretty much it. Wishing your competent manager will take initiatives towards being a great leader is a nice dream, and it might even come true (give me a call lol). One has to realize that's not in the cards for every person who ends up in a leadership position in their company, especially supervisory positions. It's not fair to push every leader who works for you to be better at it unless you're ready to invest in their future... and yours... which you should be doing!

Companies shouldn't settle for competent leaders at the highest levels. For everyone else, if their management level leaders are at least competent, things will run smoothly. Just make sure they're competent; how hard can that be?