Being a Leader with no Expertise

Monday, 20 November 2017 10:18 Written by
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Many of us would not dare to comment about something we do not know, especially in the company of those who may know more. But stepping out of comfort zone is no way less exhibiting leadership.

It is an assumption that skills you need to be as a leader are transferrable, because the way you inspire and motivate are good enough skills to establish you as an Leader.

But some researches have been contrary to the above notion.

Having domain expertise make you far more superior and technical competency makes you successful even in a management role. Hospitals managed by doctors are for more reliable and deliver well vis-à-vis those managed by other backgrounds.


leader with no expertise


Let us decipher the core elements to be a successful leader.

They may include but are not limited to :

  • ability to motivate self and others
  • effective oral and written communication
  • critical thinking skills, problem solving ability, and skills at working with teams and delegating tasks.

Some others equally important and critical are :

  • Take in large volume of information and break it into essential elements which define the core problem
  • Organize teams towards a common shared vision
  • Help in establish trust in the group

However, all the above skills alone will not make a great leader, one would also need expertise in a particular domain.

Illustrating above statement critical information a doctor needs to diagnose a patient or critical information needed by a lawyer to save his client are needed to negotiate a good business deal with the dual combination of domain knowledge and good leadership requirement.

Even effective communication differs from one domain to another. Doctors talking to patients must communicate information differently than politicians reacting to a natural disaster.

When one starts identifying core skills that leaders have it quietly becomes clear that domain specific expertise is bound up in all of them; because business is not really a single domain.

Some leaders may feel that having people with specific skill sets will solve their issues and allow them flexibility with respect to sound decisions, however, the problem is that without actual expertise, how would leaders even know they have the right people with right information and equally right skills to deliver ?

If managers cannot evaluate the information they are getting for themselves, then they cannot lead effectively.

Hence one can definitely state that leadership has two implications –

First, when we teach people about leadership, we need to be more explicit that domain expertise matters.

Second, when we train people to take on leadership roles, we need to give them practice solving domain-specific problems so that they can prepare to integrate information in the arena in which they are being asked to lead. For example, it isn’t enough just to teach people about how to resolve generic conflicts between employees, we must create scenarios derived from real time cases so that people have to grapple with all of the ambiguities that come from the conflicts that arise within particular industries.

This is particularly important because of modern workplace challenges, higher mobility, younger employees, multicultural workforce and workplace diversity.

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