Explore how leadership is defined in your organization.

Written by Nathan Leaman

Businessman writing on a white board

Browse any business website or resource, and chances are the most common topic you’ll find is that of leadership. And with good reason – leadership has emerged as one of the most common buzzwords in business, serving as the foundation of any organization in setting its direction, inspiring employees, and driving overall growth.

Unlike traditional models that depict leadership as revolving around hierarchy and authority, leadership today involves a complex blend of values and principles including adaptability, strategic decision-making, empathy, and corporate responsibility. A well-defined leadership model acts as the roadmap that shapes behaviors, decisions, and the culture of an organization.

But here’s the catch: what works for one company may not necessarily work for another. Leadership, at its core, means different things to different people. For some, it’s about visionary decision-making, while others see effective leadership as the art of nurturing and empowering their teams. And then there are those who define leadership through acts of service that leave lasting imprints on communities and societies.

All this reveals leadership as a complex challenge that many organizations have yet to perfect. Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, powerful leadership models are ones that are tailored to fit an organization’s DNA, integrating with their values, culture, and aspirations.

But how does one even begin to create a leadership framework that actually works? To set the course for an impactful tailored model, you need to explore the very definition of leadership itself and what it means for you and your organization.

Leadership Framework: A Definition

Leadership, according to the Leadership Framework Pty. Ltd., is about a set of holistic principles that define what managers at all levels must know and must do. Along the same lines, Oxford University defines a leadership framework as the skills and behaviors that are generally regarded as important and must be upheld in an organization. The NHS holds leadership in a broader view, emphasizing that it isn’t confined to designated roles but is everyone’s responsibility.

Regardless of which definition you agree with or whether you have your own take on it, the definition of leadership, in essence, varies depending on an organization’s mission, vision, values, and strategy. For instance, whether it’s emphasizing a learning culture or nurturing innovation and risk-taking, the concept of leadership should remain fluid and consistently reflect an organization’s unique goals and beliefs.

More importantly, no matter what leadership definition your organization adopts, it’s how you put these expectations into action that truly brings the meaning of leadership to life. Integrating these principles into the fabric of your organizational culture and daily application within talent-focused initiatives is key to crafting a successful leadership framework.

Building a Leadership Framework

Part 1: Getting the Model Right

Leadership is a multidimensional spectrum; lead too aggressively, and you may get impressive results but excessive stress and high turnover. On the other hand, if you’re too conservative, you may achieve moderate stability but risk complacency and limited growth.

Despite whichever leadership definition you choose, the core objective remains constant: striking a delicate balance between driving productivity and cultivating an engaging, challenging environment for employees. The ideal leader is skilled at navigating this balance, forging strong relationships while fostering a collaborative team that overcomes obstacles and accomplishes objectives together.

The Invitation-Challenge Matrix depicts the sweet spot for leaders – a balance between growth and resilience to achieve high connection, high relationships, and a high drive for results and productivity.

Building your organization’s leadership model thus centers on attaining this balance, beginning with a 3-step process involving the selection of leadership competencies aligned with your organizational values:

Step 1: Leadership Competency Selection

Initiate the process by having the right stakeholders, typically executive ones, decide on 5-7 of the most crucial leadership traits that will drive the organization’s progress. This requires them to work closely together to come up with their own definition of a leader and how it relates to the organization’s overarching vision and mission. It also involves thoroughly examining what these principles would look like in theory and practice, and what expectations to have upon their integration into the work culture.

Sample competencies that may be vital for your organization include strategic thinking, conflict management, change leadership, adaptability, problem-solving, and inclusivity. Of course, you may think to yourself that allthese competencies and more are important to have in your leadership model. However, narrowing down your selection to only 5-7 directs your attention and efforts toward the most significant traits.

Step 2: Contextual Leadership Interviews

Once your stakeholders have narrowed down their selection to 5-7 competencies, conduct contextual leadership interviews to really understand what these competencies mean to different individuals. In these one-on-one conversations, ask the stakeholders why these selected competencies are critical for them, and how they align with the organizational context from their perspectives. Doing so can uncover further insights into the integration of these competencies within the organization’s direction and help mitigate any discrepancies.

Step 3: Leadership Competency Finalization

After the contextual leadership interviews, have the stakeholders come together again as a group to refine and approve the chosen competencies. At this time, show the potential output of each competency and what it may look like when put into practice. Examples of this may be:

Leadership Competency: Instills Trust

Definition: Gains confidence and trust through honesty, integrity, authenticity, loyalty, and moral courage.


  • Follows through on commitments.
  • Is direct, truthful and shows consistency between words and actions.
  • Admits failures, balances vulnerability and discretion.
  • Inspires confidence.
  • Makes the tough decisions for the right reasons.

Leadership Competency: Learning Orientation

Definition: Pursues personal and professional development.


  • Fosters psychological safety, learns from failure, and shares mistakes as a means to grow.
  • Willing to take on tasks outside their comfort zone to grow their skills and abilities.
  • Shares lessons learned, teaches, coaches, mentors, and supports others; actively seeks out answers and insights from others.
  • Connects employee-owners to broader organization and strategy.

The examples above may have variations depending on organization to organization. The main takeaway is that these competencies must be specific to your organization and adapted to fit its own needs and values. 

Part 2: Applying the Leadership Model

With the blueprint of the leadership model in place, it’s time to put it into action. Rather than treating these competencies as isolated efforts, the leadership framework should be embedded into the entire employee lifecycle.

This means intricately weaving your chosen leadership competencies into pivotal organizational stages designed to harness and develop your employees’ talents and abilities. This strategic approach not only distinguishes your leadership perspective in the industry but also positions your organization as an Employer of Choice, setting you apart from other industry players.

The various stages of the employee lifecycle

From talent attraction to transition management, the leadership model can be merged into the employee lifecycle in the following ways:

  • Attract: Use the framework to highlight how your organizational values set you apart and to attract talent that supports these principles.
  • Recruit: Integrate the model into the recruitment process to identify candidates who exhibit these competencies and select individuals with the potential to grow into future leaders.
  • Onboard: Introduce the leadership framework from day one to establish clear expectations on what is necessary for growth within the organization.
  • Manage: Incorporate competencies into performance management, evaluation, and goal-setting processes to assess leaders’ effectiveness based on their performance and behavior.
  • Develop: Use the framework to guide leadership development programs and initiatives.
  • Retain: Align retention strategies with the leadership model to create an engaging stay culture that encourages employees to remain with the organization.
  • Transition: Ensure that leadership expectations take the central stage in transition management and succession planning.

When the leadership model becomes a fundamental part of the full employee lifecycle, it establishes clear expectations from the beginning, evaluates leadership effectiveness, and cultivates the development of leaders through a holistic approach.

Pitfalls to Avoid

As with any process, challenges will arise if not anticipated and addressed proactively. To ensure the efficacy of your leadership model from the outset, avoid making these mistakes:

Building in a Vacuum: Be strategic and thoughtful about who you would like to have as a stakeholder. Engage up to 10 senior-level leaders and representatives from various organizational levels to capture a comprehensive view of the work culture. Involving the right people from the beginning encourages strategic decision-making and minimizes delays.

Choosing Too Many Competencies: At first glance, every leadership competency may appear important to have. Resist the urge to include an excessive number of competencies in your model. Leaders can only balance about 5 to 7 concepts well – anything more than that will stretch them too thinly and dilute the framework’s effectiveness.

Lack of Contextualization: Utilize what’s already been established as a foundation for selecting the 5-7 competencies. If you’ve already developed tools that illustrate your mission, vision, values, and strategy, use them to refine competencies, identify redundancies, or exclude unnecessary values from the leadership model. Consider and leverage what’s already been done as a crucial part of shaping your model.

Implementing Too Quickly: We get it – your leadership model looks fantastic on paper, and you’re excited to get started.  But take a pause to remember – what works in theory doesn’t always mean it’ll be the same in practice.  Rushing into implementation without a carefully thought-out plan might hinder its adoption. When developing plans to implement the model, engage the same stakeholder group to continuously refine the process and validate its applicability.

Only Thinking About Training: A comprehensive approach extends beyond training – it reinforces the competencies across all major stages of the employee lifecycle. The model shouldn’t be seen as just a piece of the puzzle; it should instead be ingrained into the work culture to yield its full impact.

Build Your Leadership Framework with Frontline Training Solutions

At Frontline, we encourage you to reflect on these 3 essential questions that will help shape your leadership framework:

  1. What does leadership mean within our organizational context?
  2. Why is effective leadership critical to our organization’s success?
  3. How do we measure the effectiveness of f leadership within our organizational network?

Exploring these questions will put on you the right path to crafting a leadership framework designed to meet your organization’s needs.

For further insights on constructing a strong leadership framework, tune in to our webinar, Framing Leadership, or connect with us at Frontline. We’re here to help you discover the answers to these questions, enabling you to develop a framework that defines your organization’s culture, steers its direction, and propels it toward enduring success.

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About the Author

Nathan Leaman

Nathan Leaman is a passionate professional with extensive experience in building systems and tools that support organizational and leadership effectiveness.  Nathan brings over 20 years of leadership and HR experience from both business and non-profit organizations. Nathan has a Bachelor’s degree from the Moody Bible Institute, a Master’s degree from Liberty University and received his coaching certification from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Nathan spent seven years in full-time church ministry before working for 13 years at the Kohler Co.  At Kohler, Nathan moved through various HR roles eventually taking the position of Director- Leadership Development.  Nathan also held various executive HR roles for the Grande Cheese Company in Fond du Lac, WI where he was responsible for Organizational Development, Compensation, Benefits Management and HRIS. Nathan has extensive experience with assessment tools and is certified in multiple personality and 360 degree feedback assessments.  His straightforward style, willingness to tackle difficult issues, genuine interest in seeing others grow and ability to coach at all levels makes Nathan a go-to resource for strategic HR support and executive development.