Skip to content
Back to Blog
Leadership calendar    Apr 23, 2020

Anticipate & Adjust: Week 7 - COVID & Core Competencies

Is this current Black Swan so powerful that it can create a missing intangible or core competency in an experienced leader? Find out in this week's memo to our portfolio CEOs.

The week seven memo that was sent to our CEOs across the country on Sunday, April 19:

Many experts believe intangibles and select competencies cannot be taught. Since intangibles are formed at an early age and stage, these experts hold that even a life-changing event will not create real and permanent change. I disagree.

I am asking you to take a journey with me for the rest of the year. I would like us all to identify one core competency that is very difficult to change. Then let’s work for the rest of 2020 to acquire this competency and prove the experts wrong.

Right now, many reflections and assertions about the “new normal” in supply chains, telehealth, work style, and the models for service industries are surfacing. I think at the root of the new normal is the amount of permanent change that will occur or not, in people and their leaders. This year presents a lifetime opportunity to source and steel newfound inherent behaviors, perspectives and leadership genes. If not now, when? If not you, who? Seize the swan.

Founders and CEOs in private, sub $100M companies have many different competencies but a recurring set of intangibles. As innovators and builders with confidence, tenacity, and ambition, you have an uncommon risk-reward perspective.

Uncommon does not mean complete. Certain abilities are essential for building a great company. When I was a CEO of a $10M company, I liked to hire people who were very good at conceptual design, very pragmatic and customer-focused. In a large public company like IBM, I liked to work with people who had passion, process excellence and political astuteness (get the budget). As an investor, I want to back CEOs who are inspiring, strategic, and communicate well with their team.

But no one has every competency. Since March 8th I have thought about this question daily:
Is this current Black Swan so powerful that it can create a missing intangible or core competency in an experienced leader?

My simple approach to answering this question starts by probing the following:

  1. What competencies have I always wanted to acquire?
  2. What is the probability of finally gaining these elusive competencies due to the Swan?
  3. What is the process to try?


Here is a sample list of competencies in three categories, ranging from “relatively easy” to “difficult to change.” The chart appears in a book by Bradford Smart that I always keep on the shelf, titled Topgrading:



I have a few competencies amid a lot of incompetence. I am going to pick one competency from each column to acquire in the upcoming months. I would like to become more intelligent, more resourceful and improve my first impression in a Zoom culture. If you would like to join me, I will provide a process that spans the next 8 months.


While reflecting on these competencies, I noticed there is one core competency not on this list, which is the key to unlocking all the others. I have seen this quality in all great leaders. I also heard it on our CEO P2P Exchange call Thursday from several of you.


The intangible is humility. I believe humility unlocks all other pathways to building core competencies and other leadership intangibles. It mixes ambition with self-awareness. It educates mistakes to become success through experience. The humble leader is a listener, learner, and empathizer. The humble leader has infinite capacity to scale because s/he is agile and adaptable. The humble leader has high integrity; I don’t just mean morals. People follow and fight for inspiring, confident, humble leaders. 


All of you consume a daily diet of humility as private company founders and CEOs. You can defy the odds and have an expanded set of intangibles and competencies. While company valuations might be down in 2020, leadership valuations are going higher than ever.


We are here anytime Monday to Sunday.


C. Clark

Edison Partners