The Harvard Business Review published research in 2016 regarding the top 10 leadership competencies and how these could be grouped into 5 themes*. Given how much the business world has changed in 2020 it’s worth asking if the Business Review’s conclusions are still valid.

Key Competencies:

According to the original article, the most important competency of strong ethics and safety focused on the employees’ needs for fairness and clear expectations. These are what create an environment where people have social engagement, innovation, creativity, and ambition.

2020 Impact:

In the world of 2020, feelings of fairness and safety are not easily to be found. This raises the question of how management (both HR and line managers) can create and communicate a sense of fairness and safety when many businesses are struggling and working from home (WFH) has left many feeling isolated from colleagues and organisations.

I’d suggest the following:

  • Communicate: be clear about what is going on with the company, and what the goals are for teams and individuals. Be open and frequent in communication
  • Avoid the blame game: if things go wrong managers must find out what happened and why without appearing to throw the blame on individual subordinates – it helps if managers are not afraid to let go of power and can identify issues and find fixes without demoralising their subordinates
  • Allow new ideas – in a changing world these are needed even if not all of them will work out. Try out new ideas, accept failure and learn the lessons that result from this. Employees will become more engaged and productive.
  • Encourage learning – it’s important to keep everyone’s skills up to date and allow for reskilling where necessary – learning encourages innovation and productivity.

What Managers Should Focus On:

In reading the above how many managers would focus on what they want from their employees, rather than think about what they need to become the manager their employees need? In the era of WFH, communication skills have become paramount, and the necessity of allowing employees to try out new ideas, essential. If managers are not comfortable with this, then it’s time to look to developing their own abilities.

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*The Top 10 Leadership Competencies grouped into  5 themes

Strong ethics & safety

  • Have high ethical and moral standards 
  • Clearly communicates expectations


  • Provides goals and objectives with loose guidelines/direction

Efficient Learning:

  • Has the flexibility to change opinions
  • Is open to new ideas and approaches
  • Provides safety for trial and error

Natures Growth

  • Is committed to my on going training
  • Helps me grow into a next-generation leader

Connection & Belonging:

  • Communicates often and openly
  • Creates a feeling of succeeding and failing together.