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On Leadership Development, Part 2

posted Jul 31, 2011, 8:17 PM by Greg Smith   [ updated Dec 15, 2011, 5:29 PM ]

As I stated in Part 1, authors Morgan McCall and George Hollenbeck got my attention with their article "Developing the Expert Leader." All eight of their main points resonated with my experience and observations. In the paragraphs below I'll interact with five of their points. The numbering of the points refers to the order in which they are presented in the original article.

3. Expertise is based on knowledge and how it is organized.

This principle has certainly shown itself in my own experience. To the extent that I've succeeded in my development as a leader, it has been through progressive assimilation of new knowledge. On the other hand, my defects as a leader represent areas where I've so far failed to latch onto needed sources of knowledge. There's an old adage that says "leaders are readers," and that surely represents my view. Over the course of many years, the leaders who have commanded my respect have been people who were actively learning at the time, regardless of how much they had learned in the past.

6. Other people matter in becoming an expert.

More than once I've heard it said that the course of our lives will be determined by the books we read and the people with whom we associate. Point 3 covered the matter of reading books, while point 6 addresses our interpersonal connections.

Once again, I can identify with McCall and Hollenbeck's postulate. I can readily think of leaders who believed in and cultivated me at critical points in my past. I'm truly grateful for their investments. Furthermore, I'm open to establishing future coaching and/or mentoring relationships, whether the expertise being cultivated is my own or someone else's.

4. Expertise requires more than just knowledge.

This principle has to do with the dispositions, energy, and disciplines that an expert leader must exhibit. I wonder if libraries and higher education institutions have something of a blind spot here. Position announcements and search processes seem to place a high premium on educational attainments, sometimes prescribing a level or field that seems unduly high or overly specialized.

5. Expertise requires more than just experience.

Experience is necessary to leadership development, but not just any sort of experience will do. Years or decades of experience do not magically make people competent to assume more responsibility. It must be intentional, intensive, reflective experience. McCall and Hollenbeck persuasively argue that experts, including expert leaders, are those who have tirelessly improved their performance based on insights from all venues of learning--not least experience. I suppose that writing this blog is a mechanism that helps me to solidify my learning--to think more intently about my reading and my experience, and to try to distill lessons that I can apply more readily in the future.

2. Expertise is domain specific.

The authors of the article make it clear that successful leadership in one realm does not typically qualify a person to assume a leadership role in a variety of other realms. Rather, expertise is somehow bound up in the leader's understanding of a specific context, industry, and/or organization, and this will not necessarily transfer to other situations. The authors also emphasize that leadership demands a broad array of knowledge and skills. With this in mind, leaders in academe and libraries may face particularly daunting challenges. Inside understanding of a discipline, profession, or institution may yield important contextual value, but it will likely have to be shed, at least to some extent, in favor of new knowledge and skills, when a leader takes on a new challenge. Ongoing learning is thus an imperative for academic leaders who aspire to expertise.