Implementing generic leadership models risks a much higher failure rate compared to those especially designed to capture the company’s organizational context, language and – first and foremost – strategy. Use of an overly comprehensive off-the-shelf model may also indicate lack of executive commitment and support for the project.


I have seen more than a hundred competency models for leaders, reviewed dozens and been involved in global implementation of quite a few. The most successful ones tend to have something in common. In my experience, this is CEO’s commitment, strategic alignment, holistic implementation and last but not least, bespoke design. I define success here as value added to the business – via overall impact on changing the leadership culture and high level of internal buy-in. Actually, it is quite easy to reason why these common nominators seem to be entwined and even interdependent.

If there is no commitment and contribution from the CEO’s office, there rarely is any strategic alignment. Most of the value of any competency model – generic or customized – is lost at this point. I have sat in numerous client meetings asking HR if the topic is a priority in the corner office. Way too often the answer has been something like “Uhh well, our Executive Team is not aware of this project” or “We’ve been assigned to buy a leadership model because other companies have that, too”.

To me it seems that use of a generic model and lack of commitment and support go together. If the CEO and Executive Team had a strong desire and vision of leadership needed to deliver on the strategy, I imagine it would seldom be replaced with language of an off-the-shelf framework.

Frameworks can – and should – be utilized to an extent when building the model, for no less than securing coherence, consistency and measurability in its’ applications. However, this does not exclude the option of customization in any way. Yes, it may be just a bit more cumbersome to align the tools and processes but the payoff greatly exceeds the downsides as the new model will be much better received and adopted.

As a matter of fact, I’ve often witnessed remarkable level of buy-in and enthusiasm when the leadership behaviors have been perceived as “ours” and not as something ”bought from outside”. And there are several options for the depth of customization, too. Just remember that user-friendliness (through simplicity and well-functioning interface to all people processes) must be honored at all times.

All of the aforementioned factors and decisions taken will either help or hinder the actual implementation work. And implementation (or ’operationalization’) is where companies with 100% home-brewed leadership models start facing huge difficulties. This is because of lacking the required quality of measurability, something which could have been achieved by using a high-quality framework in design.

Best models I’ve seen always have it – and they have been thoroughly embedded in the organization with their scope covering not only leadership development but also succession planning, people analytics, performance management and talent acquisition. And just as importantly, they are regularly updated to reflect the strategy.

Many businesses end up with their leadership model turning out as another exercise in futility. However, while most of their peers fail, smart companies CAN succeed in creating a truly powerful tool for changing the leadership culture and implementing the strategy. It’s all about taking the right action to begin with: securing commitment, aligning with the strategy, making it your own and using external help where appropriate.