Strategy, Innovation & Leadership

4C Leadership Capabilities

By Ron Meyer | December 10, 2020 | 4 min read

What are the core capabilities needed for effective leadership? TIAS professor of Strategic Leadership Ron Meyer presents an insightful tool to kickstart your thinking: 4C Leadership Capabilities.

Key definitions

Leadership is the ability to engage others to move in a certain direction. You know someone is leading if other people are following. As such, leadership is not positional, but relational – you are not a leader because of the chair you sit in, but because your relationship with others allows you to influence them.

To be effective at leadership requires a broad portfolio of skills, ranging from analytical abilities, to listening, communicating, empathizing, visioning, and deciding. All these skills are building blocks contributing to a few core capabilities that are necessary for any form of leadership.

Conceptual model

The 4C Leadership Capabilities Model suggests that there are four core capabilities that are always needed to be an effective leader – connecting, confidence, cognizance and compelling – each with a range of supporting skills. Each of the four core capabilities also results in a tangible leadership characteristic; leaders have a circle of connections, have a brand image among these connections, put issues on their agenda to resolve and use various styles to sway their connections. Leadership development is about working on leaders’ current circle, brand, agenda, and styles, as well as on strengthening their four core capabilities.








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Key elements


The four core leadership capabilities are the following:

  1. Connecting: Building a Leadership Circle. Connecting is all about establishing a relationship with other people. This can be done one-on-one and face-to-face, but you can also connect with groups of people and at a distance, via writing, a call or even a webinar. The question is who you want to invest in connecting with – who do you want to have in your leadership circle and how closely connected do you want to be? From a leadership capability perspective, the question is which skills you need to develop to be more effective at connecting, such as networking, communicating, and bonding.
  2. Confidence: Building a Leadership Brand. Confidence is about getting other people to believe in you, so they will willingly follow. To get them on board, people must perceive you as someone who is credible (does things well) and trustworthy (does things justly). The question is whether you have such a reputation – is your leadership brand strong enough in important areas to sway people to accept your leadership? From a leadership capability perspective, the question is which skills are needed to strengthen people’s confidence in you, such as transparent decision-making, admitting mistakes and advertising success.
  3. Cognizance: Building a Leadership Agenda. Cognizance is about being aware of what people need and where your leadership is required. You need to understand the situation, the challenges people are facing and even what makes each person tick. With so much going on around you, the question is which issues you want to put on your priority list – what should be on your leadership agenda, requiring your focused attention? From a leadership capability perspective, the question is which skills you need to be more cognizant of the situation, such as listening, political awareness and emotional intelligence.
  4. Compelling: Building Leadership Styles. Being compelling is about having actual sway over other people. You need to be able to win hearts and minds, getting people to move in the desired direction. You need to have the means to impact what people do. The question is in what ways you can be compelling – what type of leadership styles do you have at your disposal to engage with other people? From a leadership capability perspective, the question is which skills you need to make the best use of your repertoire of styles, such as situational responsiveness and the flexibility to switch between styles.

Key insights

  • Leadership is about influencing through relationships. Management is a position, while leadership is the ability to sway people to move in a certain direction based on the relationship that you have with them. You get a job, but you need to earn your leadership.
  • All leaders face four leadership challenges. To be effective, leaders need to determine who they want to lead and connect with them (leadership circle), get these people to view them as credible and trustworthy (leadership brand), understand what these people need under the circumstances (leadership agenda) and then influence them to move in a particular direction (leadership styles). All four challenges must constantly be reviewed.
  • All leaders need four core leadership capabilities. Underpinning the four leadership challenges are four core leadership capabilities – connecting, confidence, cognizance and compelling. You aren’t born with any of them, they need to be developed.
  • The core leadership capabilities are based on many skills. Each core leadership capability rests on many skills, such as listening, speaking, praising, confronting, and analysing. These are not ‘leadership skills’, but skills that can be used for leadership.
  • Leadership development is more than personal development. Many ‘leadership development’ activities fail to focus on the leadership challenges and core leadership capabilities. Instead they deal with personal awareness (e.g. personality types) and personal effectiveness skills. All useful, but not leadership development.

Inspired by this kickstart?

The six-day Masterclass Personal Leadership will teach you how to lead people by establishing a connection. You will learn how to identify the underlying motives of others and how to use this knowledge to shape your leadership. At the same time, you will gain insight into your own motives, leadership styles, strengths and weaknesses.

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4C Leadership Capabilities is part 18 of a series of management models by prof. dr. Ron Meyer. Ron is managing director of the Center for Strategy & Leadership and publishes regularly on Center for Strategy & Leadership

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