Friday, April 1, 2016

the “expertise” of leadership

There is often debate on who should lead what type of organization…is it necessary to have an expertise in a specific field or discipline to lead an organization that is dedicated to that area of knowledge?  Must one be an engineer to lead an engineering firm…or a lawyer to lead a law firm…or an academic to lead a university…or a technology geek to lead a tech company?  These questions are inherent in higher education as we prepare students for work in certain fields based on what they study...and as we choose leaders for institutions of higher education.  The demands of the job (as well as in many other institutions) may or may not need areas of expertise…what they DO need is leadership expertise. So what makes someone an “expert” in leadership?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • The ability to think strategically – while having knowledge of the organization’s core competency might be important, bringing strategic thinking to the table and getting others on one’s team to think strategically) is even more important.
  • The ability to lead a team – let others have the expert knowledge that comprises what the organization does, and use them to make decisions for the future of the institution.  Expert leaders build a team that can make things happen.
  • The ability to make hard decisions – there are many things an organization CAN do…what they MUST do is often up for debate and expert leaders are able to make those decisions, even when they are difficult and complex.
  • The ability to listen (really listen) – this goes beyond nodding one’s head in agreement…expert leaders listen to all sides, ask a lot of questions, weigh the multiple alternatives, and include people in the process when they can.
  • The ability to learn – whether one is an expert in their field or discipline at the time they assume a leadership role matters little…can they keep learning and, if they are not an expert in the organization’s field or discipline, can they learn the organization’s’ core competencies quickly and thoroughly?
  • The ability to embrace paradox – when leading an organization, few decisions are black and white…grey is the color of leadership and those who lead should be able to embrace paradox and help others learn how to use the concept in decision making.
  • The ability to know what they don’t know – this is really hard for many people since their success (and their ascent to leadership positions) has often been based on what they do know.  Learning to use the phrases “I don’t know” and “I could be wrong” will serve an expert leader well.
  • The ability to build other leaders – expert leaders know that they actually do very little leading (at least of what the world thinks leaders do).  Raising up other leaders on their team is one of the most important roles leaders play (and often one of the hardest).
  • The ability to communicate – being able to speak and write well, AND do so in a manner that matters is a skill expert leaders use to accomplish much of the above.  Communication that is clear, compelling, and models a sense of caring is critical to making things happen.
  • The ability to understand one’s shadow side – people often move into leadership roles based on what they do well and what pleases them and others.  The dark side of one’s leadership (that which often really drives the individual) can destroy an organization – and can destroy others in the organization.  Thinking about this, understanding this, and doing everything to combat the dark side defines an expert leader.

What might be missing from this list?  Feel free to weigh in by leaving a comment…and please be sure to share this blog with a friend.


Rajiv Arora said...

Nice tips and discussion all through the blog.

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Tom Irby said...

Good stuff Don! One thing that comes to mind is the ability to parse out emotion and always do what is best for the company (or organization). Many times we know what is best for the business, but emotionally we may be vested in a person or process that holds us back from what is right. Leaders must be able to see through those obstacles clearly and be decisive in what is best for the long term vision.