Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Leaders Should Be Competent – But Not Too Competent

Guest post from David C. Baker. Does a manager/leader need to be really good at what they manage? I would say for some professions, like sales, they do. What do you think? 

After interviewing more than 10,000 employees at 600+ companies, you start noticing patterns in effective leaders. Recognizing these patterns is a crucial step for first-time (and long-time) managers, as I’ve written about in Managing (Right) for the First Time.

One of the more surprising patterns is the level of competence that a leader should possess. Leaders only need a basic level of competence. Just enough to understand the issues and evaluate talent.

Leaders should not be the most technically competent of the group they are leading. If they are, it may be a sign that they have hired helpers instead of experts. It could also mean that they were promoted for the wrong reasons. They might have been a very good “doer,” but perhaps not the best “manager.”

There is one thing leaders should be competent at: leading. That is their job. Leaders should know just enough to be dangerous about the subject they are managing. How can you know if you’ve crossed the boundary into over-competence? Ask yourself:

• Is there anyone you are managing that you don’t trust to do something they have been hired to do? If so, why?

• When you are reviewing work, do you spend more time nitpicking or focusing on the big picture?

• When you are interviewing new talent, are you actively seeking out people that are smarter than you in a given area?

Let’s face it: all over the world you can find well-run companies whose leaders are managing others who are far more competent than they are. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A well-run company is a well-run company.

Author Bio
David C. Baker lived in Guatemala until he was 18 and now lives in Nashville, TN. In addition to owning a thriving management consulting practice, ReCourses, David is a frequent speaker and author. His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Inc. magazine, BusinessWeek, and dozens of other national publications. He enjoys travel, racquetball, photography, and flying airplanes and helicopters.


Des Gray Business Consulting said...

Good advice. Interestingly, the more personally developed the leader is, the less ‘industry competence’ they require – and the more competent they become. What’s my point? Leaders must be able to lead themselves first, before they can effectively lead others. The more developed they are, the more they can lead from a neutral place. Thus getting far more from their followers (who happily want to follow); and with much less effort.

TheSavvyOne said...

I couldn't agree more. Leaders hire competent technical experts or other leaders that possess strengths to shore up their weaknesses. Leaders should be the best leader among their direct reports and not necessarily the smartest or most technically savvy. As the post mentioned, technical experts are not likely the best leaders. But, many organizations are oblivious to this fact.

Anonymous said...

You make an important point. I would add that 'knowing just enough...' requires leaders to keep learning and stay in touch with issues current in their field. We must make it a priority to carve out time for this learning to happen. Thanks for your post!

Rob Moore said...

I agree with this post but I will say that there is nothing wrong with being very competent or even the most competent person in the group that you're leading. What is more important is how are you utilizing your knowledge. I have personally manged and lead individuals where I knew more about there job than they did but I did not micro-manage them. Instead, I focused on guiding and leading them. Thanks for the great post!