Three Leadership Traits that Trump being an Expert

Leaders today face an interesting paradox.  On the one hand, the demand for “life-long learning” has never been greater.  Leaders simply cannot afford to stop learning.  If you coast, you roast!  Knowledge, information, and disruptive technologies are flowing into the marketplace like a roaring river.  Drinking from it may feel like drinking from a fire hydrant, but you have to keep drinking, nonetheless.

On the other hand, while you are required to keep learning new things, you can’t use that newly acquired information to lead.  Not exactly, anyway.  And you can’t rely on what you already know to make you an effective leader, either.  Sounds crazy, right?  In a way it is.  Chaos, perhaps.  The point is:  in the past, leaders were recognized as experts in their areas of specialty and people followed them because of it.  That’s not true anymore.  It just isn’t.  Oh, you may be recognized as an expert, and you may garner a certain amount of respect because of it.  However, if it ever did in the past, that alone doesn’t translate into effective leadership today.

Instead, today effective leadership requires more than just expertise.  It requires a different set of skills. The effective leaders of today are experts in their specialties, but they also know how to negotiate the strange new landscape of leadership using three very important tools. Ignoring these tools is a fatal flaw to effective leadership.  No amount of expert knowledge (as important as it is!) can make up for the absence of these practices.

  1. Employee Engagement—This is possibly the most pressing issue in organizational health today.  The short attention span, the endless list of exciting apps beckoning from the I-pad, and a relentless need for mental and emotional stimulation are combining to create a culture of disengagement in the workplace.  Great leaders, in spite of all of the difficulties, must make employee engagement a big priority.  Engage employees and they will have a much greater appreciation for your expertise.
  2. Teambuilding—This is more than just creating a cordial environment within the office.  Building effective teams means leading your organization to collaborate with each other, instead of to compete against each other.  It means that relationships must be healthy, respect must be prominent, and diversity must be both accounted for and leveraged.  The axiom, “Together Everyone Accomplishes More” is claiming center stage in the theatre of today’s workplace.  As a leader, you must be one who empowers people, enabling them to be their best—which requires being on a great team.
  3. Leadership Development—Great leaders today are not content to be the boss of a team of followers.  Great leaders focus on building leaders.   They do not horde their expertise, they use their expertise as a ladder so that others can climb higher and fly farther.  It can seem counter-intuitive.  “If I am the leader, shouldn’t they be helping me be successful?”  Perhaps in the old order. Not anymore.  Successful leaders are servant leaders who help others reach their highest potential.  Don’t be afraid to develop your leaders and let them go on to greater things.  If you can develop leaders, there will always be people standing in line to be on your team.

Is it the end of the expert?  Well, not exactly.  However, 2014 might just be the beginning of the end for the selfish expert, and that’s a good thing for all of us.


Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

3 responses

  1. Mike, what a great post! You encompassed leadership characteristics that are often overlooked. Skill alone does not equal effective leadership. A leader must be willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work just like everyone else. The best way to engage and relate to your employees is to see things at their level from their level; otherwise they will assume you don’t understand. The level of trust that results from eye to eye and hand to hand dealings among leaders and employees can be attributed to employee loyalty, employee engagement and organizational sustainability.

    1. Thanks for your comments. You are right. Seeing things from the eyes of others makes a huge difference in building good will.

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