Magazine article Talent Development

3D Leadership: Technical Experts Often Become Managers Because of Their Expertise, but That's Only One Dimension of Strategic Leadership

Magazine article Talent Development

3D Leadership: Technical Experts Often Become Managers Because of Their Expertise, but That's Only One Dimension of Strategic Leadership

Article excerpt

Moving from a technical expert into a strategic leadership position is anything but linear. If left to their instincts, many technical experts can find themselves guided by the gravitational pull for more knowledge and experience as the gateway into leadership. To compound the issue, organizations often are willing co-conspirators in this endeavor by promoting their best individual contributors with the most expertise into management positions. The problem: Technical expertise alone does not define leadership success.

The evolution into strategic leadership positions occurs across three dimensions:

* technical expertise-the content-specific knowledge and experience an individual needs to execute the job effectively

* relationship management-the ability to engage and influence others for both immediate and long-term job success

* business savvy-understanding the business and working as a partner and strategist to achieve customer outcomes.

While the precise movement of technical experts into leadership positions varies by organization and business, the general direction is moving away from technical expertise toward building relationships and learning the business. The development process consists of two distinct phases: building a base of personal competence and building organizational capacity. Each phase requires critical changes in mindset, behavior, and perspective.

Building a base of personal competence

Personal competence is a potent combination of expertise and credibility. Expertise defines what, meaning what the position entails. The term "expertise" applies broadly to describe skill proficiency and applied knowledge needed to achieve the desired results of the position. The need to achieve is a powerful motivator, an intrinsic drive to do better, learn more, and work smarter.

Credibility defines who-who do you need to build relationships with to execute your role effectively? Credibility represents how people trust you, and you build this trust through your ability and desire to deliver value to others.

Why is credibility important? Fair question. Credibility leads to trust, and both are important as the foundation for building relationships. It is credibility, not technical expertise, that enables someone to work effectively with others, to sell ideas, and to influence decisions. While we measure expertise objectively through metrics and standards, we measure credibility subjectively through the perceptions of others.

The nature of credibility as perception is sometimes confusing to someone devoted to building technical expertise. How is it possible to influence others' perceptions? Demonstrating technical, job-related competence is part of the answer, but credibility is not simply about your native intelligence, experience, or title. In fact, it is not about you at all.

It is about other people and your ability to connect with them, to help them solve their problems and reach their goals that makes you credible. Credibility is a change in perspective-from you to others. Understanding this is central to building credibility: the ability to commit and deliver something of value to others, over and over again.

Focusing on credibility does not mean that technical expertise disappears. Rather, credibility is a realization that personal effectiveness and job success are part of a bigger equation, a mix of personal accomplishments and interpersonal connections. Like turning a kaleidoscope, what you see changes. To build technical expertise, you see situations; to build credibility, you see people.

Since credibility requires a record of accomplishment and a reputation for delivering results, it does not happen overnight. Active listening, however, can hasten the process. Active listening is magic. It transforms the common, everyday occurrence of conversation into a credibility-building opportunity. …

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