Home Professionalisms Competencies vs. Behaviors

Competencies vs. Behaviors


by Dr. Andrew L. Thorn, author of “U-wun-ge-lay-ma

I recently ran a marathon in Death Valley, California. The brutal course was made even worse by a nasty rain storm. As I struggled through the uncharacteristically cold and wet weather in the lonely desert, I found myself thinking about the loneliness of leading. The faces of the many leaders I have worked with and their individual leadership styles were the scenes that played across the miles.

As I ran, I pondered over two very critical leadership requisites, namely; professional competencies and personal behaviors.


To get my finisher’s shirt, I had to run, walk or crawl 26.2 miles on a muddy wet trail in the open desert in under six hours. Everyone that wanted to be called a finisher was bound by the same requirements. No one could run a shorter distance. No one could take longer than six hours. It was the same for everyone.

The basic requirements of a marathon are a lot like the basic competencies a business leader must possess in order to be successful. Each opportunity calls out specific KSA’s (knowledge, skills and abilities) as entry level requirements. If you don’t have them, you won’t be selected.

Even if you are somehow hired without them, you will be expected to perform them immediately. If you want to win and keep the client or the project, you must be qualified. These are things we cannot change. Instead, we must prepare ourselves for the greatest race, business, by developing and mastering these competencies.


Nick Haffenreffer, a Washington DC native, led the way and finished the marathon first. His finishing time of 2:50:12 was the fastest of the day. He finished a full three hours and seven minutes ahead of the final finisher. While all of the 209 people who completed the course in the required time received a finisher’s medal, only Nick could say that he won the race.

The race conditions were the same for everyone; the only real variable was the time it took to complete the race. In the same way that time separated the competitors in the Death Valley Marathon, our personal behaviors separate us on the field of business.

Successful leaders understand that at some point their professional competencies become a non-issue. Even though they would be recognized for not having them, they realize that they are not being recognized because they do them. True recognition comes from the way they do them.

What sets us apart are the behaviors we choose to develop. Our personal behaviors, and how we effectively use these behaviors to engage and inspire others, are the key to becoming a successful leader. We must continually develop behaviors that matter in order to make a positive impact on the people and processes we lead. We can’t stand out without them.

What Behaviors Are You Developing?

Imagine, if while I was running a marathon one of my fellow participants said to me, “I am wondering why you didn’t make me train harder so I could run faster?” Of if someone said, “I don’t think I am going to be able to finish this race. I kept waiting for you to give me my training plan and to make sure I trained properly, but you never did. It is your fault that I will not win and now I may not even finish?”

I am sure you will agree with me that to hear such comments on the marathon trail would sound pretty absurd. Yet these are the types of comments I frequently hear as I work in the field of leadership development.

Many people think that it is enough just to compete. Too many think that the organization they work for is responsible for providing the opportunity to develop their personal behaviors. They are very disappointed to discover that the higher they advance in the organization, the fewer opportunities there are for personal development. It is not that the organization does not want to do this, it is just that higher level employees require more individually catered plans and most organizations are not staffed with the people who can produce such individual growth plans.

As we continue to move into a globally competitive field it is extremely risky to wait for someone else to do something for you. You must take charge of your own personal development plan. Many organizations are willing to invest in development and respond favorably to plans presented by an individual employee. They just need a push in the right direction in order to be made aware of what their higher level employee wants. They don’t want to lose you, but they often don’t know how to keep you. It is your responsibility to let them know what you want.

What I really want to know is what are you doing to develop yourself? When was the last time you participated in a development experience that you personally funded? If it has been a while, I invite you now to spend some time thinking about what you can do to begin developing the behaviors you need to set yourself apart from the rest of the field.

One of the most valued leader behaviors is that of accountability. You are accountable for your own personal development plan.

This is the time of year to prepare for the success you will accomplish in the year to come. I am sure most of us have already spent quite a bit of time focusing on what we will do to succeed in 2013. Now it is time to think about who you must become in order to lead in whatever race you are running. Make no mistake, this is the difference maker. Be one of the rare ones. To rise above the rest, you must be willing to improve and regularly evaluate your own personal behaviors. Where and how you finish is all up to you.


Dr. Andrew L. Thorn, author of “U-wun-ge-lay-ma“, is the founder of Telios Corporation and creator of The Telios Experience™.  He holds a PhD in Consulting Psychology, a Masters in Personal and Executive Coaching, and a Masters in Business Administration from Pepperdine University. 





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