January 30, 2012 at 2:02 pm #151235
This is a rather old argument AND one that I suspect will never go away…
that you can’t be a good leader without being an expert in the field you are trying to lead…
that the best leaders are NOT experts…
From Mary Jander’s Blog:
For CIOs, Tech Expertise Isn’t Essential
I’m not an engineer, and years ago, as a young technology reporter, I recall more than one moment when I regretted this fact heartily. Usually, those times occurred during live interviews and demonstrations, when it was clear that a technical detail had escaped me, and I had to plead for explanations the interviewee felt I shouldn’t have needed.
In one painful instance, I left a particularly knotty session in a hotel tradeshow suite, only to hear someone mutter behind my back, “Another crackerjack interview!” with a mocking titter.
Well, I’m no longer that beet-faced neophyte. I may even do some (hopefully harmless) tittering of my own now and then. Over time, I’ve learned that it’s more important to know what I don’t know than to be an expert in all things, particularly when I can’t command my inner engineer to exceed a particular level of competency.
Which brings me to my point (and yes, I do have one): Not every CIO has to be highly technical.
Still, the level of technical expertise a CIO requires continues to be debated industry-wide. In a current exchange on a LinkedIn group for CIOs, for instance, many commenters among the more than 120 who weighed in believed that business acumen was more important than technological know-how for IT execs. Still, being basically IT competent was considered essential.
One participant summed it up: “A CIO doesn’t need to be a hard core techie but does need to have well rounded IT skills, knowledge and experience, business focus and be as good a leader as possible.”
January 30, 2012 at 2:40 pm #151241
January 30, 2012 at 3:26 pm #151239
Many many years ago when I was a very young E-4, I took inordinate pride in being an expert on every weapon in our squad (M-16. .45 cal pistol, M-60 machine gun, M-203 grenade launcher). An older, wiser senior NCO started listing all the weapon systems and skill sets in an infantry division and pointed out that no commanding general or sergeant major could ever master them all. Leaders need to know enough about the skills of their subordinates to earn their respect (and know when they are trying to blow smoke) but it is a fools game for the individual at the top to pretend to be the most expert person in the organization.
January 30, 2012 at 6:50 pm #151237
The idea of the “generic manager” – someone who possess some set of competencies shared across all managerial positions and levels, and can simply be plugged into any organization or work unit – is one of the most pernicious ideas out there, if you as me. It has led to frenzied movement of managers, which leaves a mess where they used to be, no matterhow great it may seem for the organization inheriting them.
But, that being said, “leading”, and what it involves, or the objectives it is intended to achieve, can vary from place to place and time to time. Many times, those who lead do have to possess expertise about the content domain in order to either a) create a vision for the organization or segment of it, or b) evaluate competing visions provided to them by others within the organization, or c) evaluate the extent to which a vision is being achieved. At those times, it helps to know something about the subject matter.
But at other times, the expertise required is not about the business lines of the unit or organization as much as about people, or about the clientele. At other times still, naiveté in the leader may be helpful in eliciting a period of reflection in the organization – “Just what IS it that we do?” – that may be particularly important tot he organization at that moment in time.
So, all other things considered, I think it better for leaders to have some mastery of the business of the organization, than not, but I can imagine instances where it is not a necessary dividing line between organizational effectiveness and chaos. They just better bring something else to the table, is all.
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