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The Competencies That All Great Leaders Share

3 Mins read

All successful businesses provide customer solutions. And all great leaders, whether they are running a start-up or a mature business, develop certain competencies to provide customer solutions that allow for success. I have experienced this myself, having led three companies – two of which I founded – that later went on to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

For me, successful leadership begins with:

  1. An understanding of the customer problem to be solved,
  2. An ability to develop a business model to profitably solve it,
  3. A full grasp of the disciplines needed to execute the model, and
  4. A feel for the deliverable customer benefits.

Core Competencies

As I explain in my book, The Value Equation: A Business Guide To Creating Wealth For Entrepreneurs, Investors And Leaders, building a company around these four key objectives requires the development of core corporate competencies.  These are the activities integral to business model execution along with solution and customer benefit delivery.  For a company to focus on anything else, especially in its early life, is a distraction than can detract from success.

Much attention is paid to corporate value statements, which set important tones.  But I find that corporate value statements tend to have high levels of similarity. Notions of integrity, respect for individuals, customer attentiveness, stakeholder custodianship and more are universal, and I find myself drawn to most every corporate values statement I have read.

I believe that organizational leadership begins with the determination and adoption of key corporate competencies. Core competencies tend to be far less universal than corporate value statements.  And they are not always simple to determine. Considering what are to be your corporate competencies can take a great deal of collective leadership team thought.

The companies that I led were engaged in the ownership and long-term rental of real estate to businesses that required such property to conduct their operations.  When starting the second and third of these companies, the leadership team and I made various business model refinements designed to reduce our staffing requirements, elevating the simplicity and efficiency of our business model.  By limiting our span of direct process controls, we were able to narrow the corporate competencies that would prove essential to our market leadership, competitive advantages and business model success.  We did not focus on anything else.

Organizational Leadership

Leadership is multi-faceted.  There is daily and project leadership where, Andrew Carnegie observed, leaders encourage teamwork enabling “common people to attain uncommon results.”  Then there is fundamental organizational leadership, where leaders work collectively to refine their business models and then buy in to a select group of core competencies.  As a serial starter of businesses, I found myself often playing in this foundational leadership arena.

Companies are like life forms.  Once entrepreneurs unleash a successful business, the leaders they assemble for this effort begin hiring future leaders and staff.  Before long, you can find your team growing meaningfully as you run increasingly into new faces in the office.  Where your reach once grasped an entire organization, you can find your touch to begin to have limits.  This is where organizational leadership becomes so valuable.

Having worked with and coalesced a group of leaders who have bought into a business model and the core competencies needed to execute that model becomes foundational in determining your corporate identity and culture.  In the middle of all the many changes and innovations that organically happen as companies grow, organizational leadership remains a constant.

Think Like a Founder

As we grew our companies over the years, we found it important to take the time to have annual employee or leadership retreats.  The general purpose?  To refine our business model and to reset our organizational leadership with the help of our growing leadership team.

Refinements made to organizational leadership make all the difference in establishing that a company has commonality of purpose.  New leaders get the opportunity to think like a founder, contributing to business model improvements and core competency refinements.  Collective core competency ownership is foundational to both a company’s mission and the tasks undertaken by leadership.   Setting and resetting core competencies is essential for growing leadership teams to think like founders.

Organic growth within a company is healthiest if it plays out within the guardrails established by organizational leadership.  It is how companies adhere to the missions set out for them by their original and successive founders.  It is how companies avoid unneeded distractions from their corporate competencies.  And it is here that leaders can enable team members to work together to achieve uncommon results.

Christopher Volk, author of The Value Equation: A Business Guide To Creating Wealth For Entrepreneurs, Investors And Leaders, has been instrumental in leading and publicly listing three successful companies, two of which he co-founded. The most recent is STORE Capital (NYSE: “STOR”) where he served as founding chief executive officer and then as executive chairman. Volk, who has written about corporate finance since early in his career and has created an award-winning video series about the topic, is a regional winner of EYs’ Entrepreneur of the Year award. He resides in Paradise Valley, Arizona, and Huntsville, Alabama. You can learn more at

Leaders stock image by ADragan/Shutterstock

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