I work in a fairly technical field. It takes a several months if not years to build up a functional competence. Whenever we have a new management position open up, the employees will generally assume that the person with the most functional expertise will be the best fit for that position. I think this is a trap that a lot of managers fall into as well.
Functional expertise is certainly valuable, but it does not necessarily carry a lot of weight when deciding who to promote into a management position. A while back we talked about what the most important characteristics for a leader were (if you missed that conversation, the post can be found here). At no point in that conversation did anyone mention functional expertise as one of the most important characteristics of a leader? Things like communication skills and empathy were discussed at great length, but no mention of functional expertise.
General Electric is famous for moving their leaders around in the organization. They have a very diverse group of product and services, and their thought process is that a good leader should be able to run any product line regardless of their experience with that particular product line. Do you think that is true? Can a good leader run any organization?
I do think that there is a lot of truth to this thought process. A good leader is a good leader. If they do not have a large amount of technical expertise, then I think it is important that they have access to people that have that expertise. I do feel however, that there is a base level of functional knowledge required for all positions. I don’t think that I am qualified to be the head of medicine at my local hospital, but I do think that you could put me into a variety of other businesses and I would be successful.
I guess my point here is that when you are trying to fill leadership positions make sure that you are looking for a leader and not the most technically competent person. The best employee does not always make the best manager.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
- The Single Greatest Characteristic Of A Leader (managebetternow.com)
- What You Should Know About Leadership – It Ain’t Rocket Science! (managebetternow.com)