How to Build a Common Language Around Leadership Competency

Current State

Formal approaches to leadership development continue to increase across organizations. Interestingly, those efforts do vary between organization-wide efforts versus business unit or department-specific, with companies being just as likely to have a single model across the enterprise as many models that are department specific.


Because more employers are “democratizing” leadership development by offering it to more employees at all levels, competing sets of values or competencies

 can create mixed messages and confusion among leaders and employees on what the organization stands for and how leaders should collaborate and manage.

This confusion could indicate a lack of agreement or alignment around leadership development, which carries the risk of missed communication and missed opportunities. This also means that too many organizations have no formal approach or common language around leadership effectiveness and development. Alignment is critical — there needs to be some common language when approaching leadership development or you simply cannot make progress.


In multiple Brandon Hall Group studies, most employers do not believe their leadership development programs are effective in improving leaders’ ability to drive business growth.

A compelling leadership development program has many facets, including creating continuous learning journeys and expanding the number of employees who receive leadership training. But the foundation has to be that all development efforts are created from the same playbook — a common set of leadership values and competencies that are communicated, supported, demonstrated and taught at all levels of an organization. This is how strong leadership development cultures are built.



Critical Questions

  1. How can employers create a common language for organization-wide leadership development?
  2. What are the overriding values and competencies that should drive how leaders at all levels think and act?

Brandon Hall Group POV

Organizations without widespread agreement on leadership principles and competencies should take steps to understand the differences and collaborate to create one universal model.

Brandon Hall Group research interviews indicate that many organizations don’t necessarily disagree on leadership values, but often confuse leadership competencies with management or differ on levels of proficiency. One leadership model does not mean everyone demonstrates it at the same level of competency. That will vary by leader experience and level. It simply means that everyone operates by the same set of values and principles, such as inclusion, collaboration, emotional intelligence, developing business acumen, etc.

Many organizations get caught up in trying to capture several very specific behaviors and functions rather than focusing a few guiding principles that frame the approach to leadership.

Here are four high-level strategies for gaining organization-wide consensus on leadership principles.

Identify Differences in How to Develop Leaders

HR leaders should use design thinking and other approaches to get a better understanding of the different lenses through which various parts of the organization view leadership and leadership development and the principles of leadership.

Our view is that different functions or locations within organizations are not necessarily talking the same language when it comes to leadership. Be inclusive in using networks, surveys and other means to understand what the conflicts or misunderstandings are so it can be determined how they can be resolved.

Give Employees a Strong Voice

In building your understanding of the barriers to an organization-wide approach to leadership development, ensure you understand what employees – people who are not in leadership positions – value in leadership. You want to understand if there are different views between leaders/managers and those they lead and supervise. This also can provide insights on what might be impeding engagement or talent retention so you can make progress on those fronts as well.

Inclusively Build a Common Leadership Model

Once the conflicts within an organization-wide model are understood, use an inclusive process to gain consensus and develop one. It should include all functions, all geographies and all levels of employees. Employee Resource Groups can be great catalysts for ideas, discussion and change. Leadership impacts everyone, so everyone should have a role in improving it.

Build a Strong Communication Strategy

The key to an organization-wide leadership model is making sure everyone knows what it is and the reasons behind it so they can be mindful of it in their day-to-day interactions. Once consensus is reached and a model is forged or amended, it just can’t sit there as a document. Employers need to have very specific strategies not only to inform employees that there is a model, but to communicate – and demonstrate – how everyone must participate in building a strong leadership culture across the enterprise.


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Matt Pittman



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Matt Pittman

Matt Pittman brings nearly 30 years of experience developing people and teams in a variety of settings and organizations. As an HR Practitioner, he has sat in nearly every seat including Learning and Leadership Development, Talent Management and Succession Planning, Talent Acquisition and as a Human Resources Business Partner. A significant part of those roles involved building out functions in organizations and driving large scale change efforts. As a Principal Analyst, Matt leverages this in-depth experience and expertise to provide clients and providers with breakthrough insights and ideas to drive their business forward.

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