The (limited) value of technical expertise in leadership


If you are a perfectionist, you are likely to spend a lot of time building your expertise at work. You probably like to know all the details of doing your job better than anyone else. While this may be an excellent trait for work that requires attention to detail, it could become a hindrance to your chances of becoming a leader. Infact, a lot of people delay aspiring to a leadership role because they feel they have not become experts in their current job and are busy perfecting their skills.

Why technical expertise has limited importance in leadership?

Expertise, in a specific technology, will help only if you plan to stay as a technical expert in that field. But if your aspirations include becoming a leader, technical expertise can only get you so far. You need to focus on developing the skills for leadership which are vastly different from technical skills.

For a moment imagine being in a leadership position. Think about what your day would look like. It is highly unlikely that you will be called upon to solve technical issues at all. Instead, you will have technical experts reporting to you that you can call upon to solve the technical issues. You do need to have knowledge of the product /technology but only to the extent of being able to understand the issue and the conversation that is happening around you. That is not to say that technical knowledge needs to be ignored, but that it needs to be complemented with leadership skills as well.

If you focus only on becoming a technical expert you also run the risk of not getting the next big leadership position because there may be no one else to replace your expertise and experience.

What should you also focus on instead?

Building multiple skills: Being a technical leader is a single domain expertise. Being a leader requires you to have a large number of skills like communication, people management, strategic thinking, risk management, project management etc. Spend time and effort enhancing these skills.

Building your personality: Leadership is also about your presence and personal effectiveness. Work on developing your personality and leadership presence. This may include working on your thinking, communication style, confidence, and self-awareness.

Building relationships: Another important crux of leadership is the people you know and the people who know you. Networking is not optional and relationship building is a skill that every leader needs to master. Build relationships with people not just for today but also for the long run.


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