Overview of SOLID Executive Competencies

What It Takes to Be an Executive


Following is an excerpt from the ebook SOLID Executive Competencies: What It Takes to Be an Executive. This summary is useful for gaining a high-level overview of our competency model, our five categories of competency, and the competencies under each category.

Great CEOs, senior leaders, and executives at every level continually strive to improve their executive competencies. They are driven to attain peak performance and accomplish results in every aspect of their personal and professional world. SOLID Executive Competencies: What It Takes to Be an Executive facilitates this self-examination and self-improvement, providing a model for identifying strengths and weaknesses and removing blind spots.

Competency Models

Competency models are useful for gaining an accurate view of an executive’s skillset. They are also useful for understanding the attributes required to be an effective organizational leader. Further, they provide a framework from which to view overall performance.

In 2001, SOLIDleaders developed this executive competency model and categorization system, which measures the degree of balance or imbalance in five key categories of executive competency. SOLID’s five categories of competency are Core Character, Execution, Relationship, Management and Leadership. Organizational leaders must master all five categories to achieve excellence in their executive roles.

The feedback we received after many years of top leaders using our system made clear two key truths:

  1. A balanced set of competencies in the categories of Execution, Leadership, Management and Relationship is necessary for optimal executive performance.
  2. Core Character is the single most important category of competency and, when strong and leveraged alongside the first key truth, can compensate somewhat for shortcomings in other categories.

Our findings were consistent across almost every one of our engagements. Therefore, we believe these two factors are key ingredients of the ideal profile for any executive.

Balanced performance in execution, relationship, management and leadership beats super-performance in one or two categories. Case in point: Throughout our engagements over the years, we observed a fascinating phenomenon. Despite having a high degree of mastery over most of the competencies in these models, many executives still failed to achieve their career aspirations. They were being prematurely terminated or quitting key roles, despite their high degree of competency in some of the categories of competency. However, we noticed moderately performing executives often did better than the superstars, if they had balanced competencies in all categories and if they had strong Core Character.

A strong Core Character without a balanced set of competencies can be a career destroyer, and so can a are equally necessary for the executive to achieve and sustain peak performance.

Overused Strengths Become Weaknesses

The Positive Psychology movement would have you believe that all you have to do is play to your strengths to be an effective executive. Not true.

We regularly conduct interview-based 360-degree assessments when beginning a coaching engagement, and these assessments often identify imbalances. We frequently see executives using their strengths to such a degree that they become weaknesses. One of our most frequently quoted sayings at SOLID is, “A strength overused becomes a weakness.”

Overusing or overplaying to strengths is a common tendency that often creates a major weakness. Because it is strength being used, there is often a gaping blind spot obscuring this strength-becoming-a- weakness. During almost all coaching engagements, we identify at least one top strength that is being overused and creating problems for the executive. That is why following the simplistic advice of “Play to your strengths” is not always a good idea.

Beyond Balance

As a quick review, we have discussed why it is necessary to achieve and maintain balance. We have also defined five core categories of executive competency:

  • Core Character: Inner qualities of integrity, ethics and character that define who we are.
  • Execution: Personal ability to make things happen and get positive results.
  • Relationship: Building and maintaining strong interpersonal relationships.
  • Management: Controlling projects and effectively managing people.
  • Leadership: Influencing and inspiring others to positive action.

The following diagram depicts our model, with the corresponding competencies in each category.


Core Character

  1. CARING AND CONSIDERATE:Demonstrates authentic concern for the welfare and success of others; considers the needs of others; drives to create a culture and policies that manifest and perpetuate this type of environment.
  2. COURAGEOUS:Demonstrates courage in the face of adversity; takes calculated risks; enterprising.
  3. DEPENDABLE AND RELIABLE:Follows through with commitments; can be depended upon, especially under pressure and in adversity; constant.
  4. HIGH-INTEGRITY AND ETHICAL:Actions match words and convictions; adheres to moral and ethical principles; respects and follows laws and regulations.
  5. LOYAL AND TRUSTWORTHY:A sense of duty and attachment to employees and the organization; engenders and deserving of trust; respects confidentiality.
  6. POSITIVE, WITH A CAN-DO ATTITUDE:Believes in own ability to achieve results; employs optimism with self and others; works hard and with high energy.
  7. RIGOROUSLY HONEST:Tells the truth; does not lie.
  8. SELF-AWARE:Has insight into blind spots; demonstrates introspection; seeks to continually improve insight into self.
  9. SERVANT LEADER:Seeks to serve others; leads by example with a certain degree of humility and respect for others.
  10. TENACIOUS AND PERSISTENT:Does not easily give up or be dissuaded; holds to a course of action even in the midst of adversity and challenge; persists in the face of obstacles and barriers unless position proves untenable.



  1. CREATING INNOVATION:Thinking more outside the box; discovering more possibilities; exploring ways to innovate; challenging pre-existing paradigms; allowing themselves and others permission to explore; tapping into existing creativity or drawing it out from others; creating an environment that supports creativity and innovation.
  2. DRIVING ACTION:Increasing drive toward action; generating more action; making things happen more quickly; driving the action of others; developing written goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, related to mission and on a timetable.
  3. DRIVING RESULTS:Increasing intensity toward driving results; developing strategies to better hit numbers; driving own performance; increasing standards for personal achievement.
  4. FOCUSING ATTENTION:Increasing ability to gain and maintain focus and attention; improving sequential thinking skills; decreasing tendency to become distracted; increasing self-discipline for remaining on task.
  5. LEVERAGING INTELLIGENCE:Increasing intellectual agility, pushing oneself to think quicker on the fly; decreasing need for processing time; increasing expectations of self to be more flexible; avoiding black-and-white, either/or thinking; drawing out brilliance from others.
  6. MANAGING MEETINGS:Improving skills in structuring staff meetings; designing off-sites; managing agendas; driving closure and actions; setting up accountability systems; ensuring follow-up.
  7. MANAGING TIME AND PRIORITIES:Maximizing current time management systems; designing streamlined processes; gaining advanced skills in task prioritization; leveraging best practices of email, calendaring, task and contact management and personal and professional demand-balancing.
  8. ORGANIZING SELF AND OTHERS:Getting better organized; being better prepared for meetings; organizing the offices; designing personal organizational systems; structuring the calendars; developing better systems of task management.
  9. RUNNING THE BUSINESS:Enhancing business acumen; increasing general knowledge of business principles; gaining MBA or other advanced degree; developing plan for online education; designing strategy for overall improvement in understanding of the workings of business.
  10. SOLVING PROBLEMS:Increasing creativity in solving problems; developing additional solutions to complex problems; brainstorming; troubleshooting possible issues; increasing analysis of problems; weighing pros and cons; identifying solutions in a more calculated way.



  1. ADAPTING BEHAVIOR:Developing competency in behavioral style management; increasing awareness of own behavioral style; learning methods of identifying others’ behavioral styles; deepening understanding of key stakeholders; improving ability to adapt one’s behavioral style to needs of situation and the styles of others.
  2. BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS: Growing interpersonal relationship skills; improving relationships with one’s board, boss, peers and/or direct reports; becoming smoother and less abrasive, decreasing friction; becoming more approachable; determining ways to be more available to others; improving ability to put people at ease.
  3. BUILDING TEAMS: Gaining greater team consensus; improving team dynamics; better guiding stages of team growth; improving employee morale; driving better team collaboration; driving team cohesiveness; improving team communication; better defusing team conflict; implementing and utilizing team assessments and surveys.
  4. COMMUNICATING INFORMATION: Improving presentation skills; gaining assessment of communication style; improving presentation design and effectiveness; managing and level-setting expectations; more persuasively promoting ideas; weighing in more often; gaining agreement and buy-in.
  5. LEVERAGING NETWORKS: Initiating and growing strategic relationships; affiliating with key influential leaders and building a high degree of trust; developing strategic alliances; growing and leveraging network.
  6. LISTENING TO OTHERS: Refining active listening skills; improving ability to read between the lines; increasing time spent listening and decreasing time spent talking; becoming more of an empathetic listener; improving ability to reflect what the other person is saying; increasing the “I feel heard” experience with others.
  7. MANAGING CONFLICT:Increasing tolerance for conflict; improving attitude toward conflict; accepting a certain degree of conflict as necessary; increasing subtlety when pushing others’ boundaries; becoming better at resolving conflicts; learning advanced conflict resolution methodologies.
  8. NEGOTIATING OUTCOMES:Gaining insight into negotiating style; improving boundary-setting; exploring “win-win” methodology; designing winning strategies; over-preparing for key negotiating initiatives; developing better closing skills; uncovering hidden opportunities for gaining concessions.
  9. PROJECTING PRESENCE: Improving leader presence; increasing comfort around upper management; improving posture; increasing direct eye contact; designing better wardrobe; improving diction; expanding vocabulary; improving meeting interface skills.
  10. READING BODY LANGUAGE: Increasing observation of others’ body language; improving ability to interpret unspoken messages; gaining ability to “read” the other’s face and body language; becoming more observant of subtle messages; increasing awareness of and sensitivity to other cultures’ forms of body language; increasing awareness of one’s own body language.



  1. MANAGING HUMAN CAPITAL: Developing systems for identifying top talent; designing succession planning processes; creating retention strategies; improving overall recruiting, interviewing and hiring skills; learning best practices of onboarding; learning coaching and mentoring methodology; accessing tools to improve effectiveness.
  2. MANAGING CHANGE: Designing change management initiatives; structuring an effective downsizing; learning best practices of re-engineering business processes; designing reorganizations; improving systems; assessing the organization; designing post-merger/acquisition integrations.
  3. MANAGING M&A: Learning additional methods of conducting due diligence; better understanding the financial side of transactions; becoming more strategic on both the buy and sell sides to drive shareholder value; exploring ways to better integrate cultures.
  4. MANAGING OPERATIONS: Improving skills in program management; better managing project managers; obtaining insight into best practices in sales management, customer service management, professional services and IT operations management.
  5. MANAGING P&L: Gaining expertise in business management; driving business and marketing analysis and planning; designing and managing business planning processes; learning creative ways to take cost out of a business; gaining greater understanding of each functional area of an organization and ways to drive the P&L.
  6. MANAGING PERFORMANCE: More directly addressing performance issues; increasing accountability; instituting systems to automate performance management of people and processes; improving quality of one-on-ones; administering employee performance assessments; ensuring fairness of metrics to all employees.
  7. MANAGING RESPONSIBILITIES: Improving ability to delegate to others; giving clearer direction to others; empowering employees; increasing ability to “let go”; improving ability to know who is capable of what level of delegation and when; creating a more empowered environment.
  8. MANAGING STAKEHOLDERS: Improving skills in public and private board management; improving leader communication skills; better level-setting expectations; learning investor relations best practices; enhancing understanding of compensation at the board and senior leader level.
  9. MANAGING SYSTEMS: Learning best practices in systems management; gaining insight into the latest research in supply chain management and systems theory; developing better skills at designing systems.
  10. MANAGING TEAMS: Growing team-building and team development skills; developing a more diversity- minded culture; more openly providing recognition; increasing use of rewards to support positive behaviors; raising visibility of outstanding achievements; better garnering resources for team; developing systems to ensure optimal availability of people, materials and any other resources.



  1. CASTING VISION: Developing a greater vision; better communicating a vision throughout organization; thinking bigger picture; communicating a more concrete vision; gaining buy-in for future state; setting core values of organization; developing philosophy of approach to marketplace.
  2. CHANGING ORGANIZATIONS:Designing effective change management initiatives; creating cultural change initiatives; planning downsizing, mergers, acquisitions, liquidity events, restructurings and other organization-wide change initiatives; designing effective succession planning programs; better managing level and rate of change.
  3. DEMONSTRATING COURAGE: Increasing willingness to stand alone; improving leadership despite adversity; increasing confidence in leadership ability; increasing calculated risk-taking; dealing better with ambiguity; increasing ability to deal with paradoxes; engaging in appropriate disclosure.
  4. EMPLOYING DIPLOMACY: Becoming more diplomatic; increasing sensitivity to organizational politics; engaging in more politically correct behavior; developing more strategic relationships with key influencers; identifying nuances in organizational politics and social dynamics; better navigating negative corporate politics.
  5. EXERCISING SOUND JUDGEMENT: Increasing speed of decision-making; improving ability to rapidly assimilate information, parse data and get at root issues; improving balance between being decisive and prudent; increasing respect for decision-making from direct reports, peers and those in authority.
  6. INFLUENCING OTHERS: Increasing level of influence; growing a larger constituency; developing a follower base; being a good follower; becoming more persuasive; expanding power base; better championing creation and institutionalization of mission, vision and values; gaining greater organizational influence.
  7. INSPIRING OTHERS: Creating motivational environments; creating excitement; sparking enthusiasm; establishing and maintaining an environment that breeds success; improving overall leadership presence; enhancing communication skills; refining presentation skills.
  8. LEADING STRATEGY: Designing effective strategic planning off-sites; facilitating strategic planning; thinking more strategically; decreasing tactical orientation; inspiring a greater shared vision; developing a more strategic thought process; increasing activities around shaping vision and strategy.
  9. MENTORING LEADERS: Gaining advanced skills in succession planning; learning “leader-as- coach” methodology; advising on selecting and managing those to mentor; better developing direct reports; enhancing others’ leadership skills; developing followers.
  10. STUDYING LEADERSHIP: Acquiring advanced leadership mentoring, training and coaching; developing reading lists; accessing peer groups; seeking out organizations to join; developing one’s own plan of leadership development; gaining accountability for improvement; learning coaching best practices; studying successful leaders throughout history; increasing drive for continuous self-improvement.

About the Author

Daniel J. Mueller

Managing Director
SOLIDleaders, LLC

www.SOLIDleaders.com Cell: 832.732.9395 Daniel@SOLIDleaders.com www.LinkedIn.com/in/solidleaders

Executive Coaching Specializations

Executive Leadership Coaching
(Growing to the Next Level)

Executive Career Coaching
(Getting a New Executive Job)

Onboarding Coaching
(Starting a New Executive Job)

Portfolio Life Coaching
(Moving into Semi-Retirement)

High Potential Coaching
(Emerging Future Leaders)

Executive Team Coaching
(All-Hands Team Coaching)

Practice Development
(Coach-the-Coach for Internal or Professional Coaches)

Daniel Mueller is one of the earliest and most active pioneers of the executive coaching industry. As of 2019, he has provided executive coaching for more than 1,450 CEOs and executives, delivered 85,000+ hours of one-on-one executive coaching, and been privileged to witness major transformation in the lives of most clients.

Passionate about serving leaders at every level, Daniel is dedicated to helping executives become more effective in all aspects of their personal and professional lives. Prior to specializing in executive coaching, he was CEO of a management training company, a business advisory firm, and an organizational development consultancy—all three of which heavily influenced his unique approach to executive coaching. In addition to drawing on these disciplines, Daniel has extensive training in the behavioral sciences, behavioral psychology, and executive career counseling. An avid student of executive leadership, he regularly speaks and publishes on subjects critical to executive peak performance.

Since 1996, Daniel has specialized in CEO and executive coaching, working in three main areas: leadership coaching, helping executives remove blind spots, leverage strengths, and overcome weaknesses; executive career coaching, helping executives transition from one role to another; and executive onboarding coaching, helping executives start new roles. He also provides training for professional executive coaches.

Since his first executive coaching engagement in 1987, Daniel knew he had found his calling, and had a meteoric rise to the top of the emerging executive coaching profession. However, the more outwardly successful Daniel became, the greater the internal pain of feeling like an imposter grew. He chose to numb this pain with alcohol, which led him into recovery for alcoholism—his sobriety date is March 4, 1996. Humbled and broken, Daniel began diligently working to attain personal transformation. This story of amazing success, total failure, and complete redemption has led to one of his favorite sayings: “I coach from a place of weakness, not strength.” From the wreckage emerged a tried and true methodology for helping any executive grow to the next level—if they are willing to do what it takes. Daniel is a good example of, “If he can do it, anyone can.”

From 1990 to 1996, Daniel served as President and CEO of Solid Foundation International Inc., an organizational design and development consultancy. There, he led team-building initiatives, administered hundreds of interview-based 360° assessments for executive coaching clients, and created individualized leadership development plans. A prolific writer, he authored numerous curricula for corporate universities, including “Training Skills for Leaders” (how leaders learn) and “Service BUILDS Sales” (how leaders sell), and dozens of white papers on critical success factors for leaders.

From 1986 to 1990, Daniel was CEO of MAI, a management consultancy acquired in 1990 by Organizational Leadership and Development, Inc., and from 1982 to 1986, was CEO of Wellness Consultants, Inc., a management training company. He began his career in 1975 as a personal trainer and fitness coach.

Daniel started college at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and relocated to Austin to complete a degree in the Plan 2 Honors Program in Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin. He is gratefully married to Patty and has three awesome daughters.