Leading people in a field is different than working in that field

May 13, 2015 by Joshua
in Education, Leadership

Business schools teach a lot of leadership. Other vocational schools do too. I don’t know them as well, but I bet the following pattern applies to them.

Say someone gets their MBA and gets a job in finance. They don’t start at the top of a hierarchy. If they do well they get promoted to manage people like they were. Then they get promoted to manage yet more people. They keep getting promoted, always managing people in their functional area of finance. Eventually they start general management, where they manage people who do things different than anything they have experience in—maybe people from sales, technology, and some other departments.

By this point they aren’t doing the functional work they did before. And they don’t have specific training in what they are doing. They may have taken some leadership classes in business school, but that’s now about a decade before. They may have gotten some training from their workplace, but they could have gotten that training elsewhere without doing the finance or whatever functional work they did to lead them there.

In other words, you could have just trained people to lead for the general management positions. Alternatively, you could have hired people trained to lead and kept the finance people in finance. And I think you can view leadership as a separate function. I think people see leadership positions at the top of a corporate hierarchy and figure they’re the best positions and they feel motivated to ascend there. General managers and leaders often do things as different from other functions as any other role in an organization. Does it make sense to fill those positions with people from different functions?

I’m starting to see leadership roles as separate functions, not necessarily better.

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