Now let me start by saying that expertise is important, it is one of the things that will help you get recognized and get you started on the leadership ladder.
The challenge is, that expertise in a particular technical field is only going to get you so far. At some point, the expertise which got you here is now going to be a limitation that will hold you back if that’s all you have going for you.
To make the jump from Expert to Leader there are three things you are going to have to do, which you might find uncomfortable, but if you can succeed then the sky’s the limit for your leadership career.
People often say that knowledge is power, but that’s only true to a point. If you are the only source of knowledge on a particular subject, whilst that might make you a valuable resource it can also stop you from being promoted because they company needs you right where you are.
The solution to this is to share your knowledge, and this has multiple benefits.
1 – It will help you develop your coaching skills which is crucial component of leadership.
2 – It will help to boost your reputation, showing that you are interested in helping develop others and improve the team.
3 – It will create ready-made replacements that will free you up for promotion.
I know this sounds counterintuitive, but early in my career I was the testing expert and I was offered test roles, but never the project manager role. I asked my boss why that was and he said ‘your the best test manager we have and you’re too valuable in that role to promote you to project manager’. My own skills were holding me back, within 6 months I shared everything I knew with my team leads and was then given the top job. I didn’t get it because couldn’t do it, but because I was needed where I was.
Leadership is all about people. I have studied failure on projects, businesses, product launches and very few of these fail because of a lack to technical expertise, they fail because of people, poor leadership and organisation.
I just recently led one of the largest Azure Migrations, and yet I know nothing about Azure, but I do know how to get the best out of people. How to organize, engage and empower them. The great thing about people skills is that they work the same in any environment, so they are portable. Whereas your technical expertise is specific, generally, to one particular niche.
Great people skills are portable and will open many doors to you!
Now many of these doors might be into worlds where you have zero expertise, just like myself on the Azure project, and yes that can feel a little bit uncomfortable. In fact, on that specific project, I was the least knowledgeable person on Azure, but this is not the first time that this has happened to me. In fact, I often end up working on projects or leading in areas where I have zero technical skills and knowledge, but this is also true for any CEO or COO. The higher we go the broader our span of control and this is always going to include areas where we lack knowledge. It can be uncomfortable but you have to get used to it and take comfort from your people skills and get comfortable with being technically uncomfortable.
If you can do that, then you will be able to lead anyone. Again this sounds counterintuitive but good leadership and people skills work anywhere and everywhere.
Also remember, Einstein said if you can’t explain it to an 8-year-old, so don’t let your technical experts try and buffalo you, ask them to explain problems and solutions to you in a way you can understand.
I often find when they do that I can see the solution to the problem, because as I mentioned things rarely fail because of technical issues, and when you can understand the concept and principle you can often see a flaw that the experts are missing.
To make it up the leadership leader, technical expertise is invaluable, but to get to the top you have to be able to succeed without out it. Yes it can be scary, but it is doable and very rewarding.
If you want to know more about becoming a great leader email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to talk about how I can help you.