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  • Writer's pictureDr. Stefanie Puckett

Are functional/ technical experts the better leaders?

Some weeks ago I had summarized the findings of a recent study, showing that a (compared to the subordinates) younger boss can harm the team`s performance. Something to consider in the current trend of early talent development in terms of early promotion into line management I see in many companies.

Now this: Another recent study (Artz, Goodall & Oswald, 2016) conducted in the US and UK with a sample size of 35000 randomly selected employees, published by Harvard Business Review ( gives more food for thought – or better - for rethought.

The findings suggests that the fact of having a boss who is highly technically competent in the field he is leading is the most important aspect in defining job satisfaction. In the US a technically competent boss even has a considerable higher influence on job satisfaction than the salary. The authors state that there is more evidence in modern literature showing for instance that hospitals might be more successful when led by doctors compared to hospitals led by general managers. In simple terms this means that we are happier working for a boss who could do our job.

When I was conducting Assessment Centers we often had that discussion – senior managers who supported Assessment Centers would, from time to time, contribute that they simply find the candidate too young or too “professionally/ technically inexperienced”. As facilitators, we turned that concern down – as it is not (leadership) competency related. But let`s be straight here. An assessment`s goal is to estimate the chances of success for the candidate in a leadership role. Why not writing recommendations for early talents confirming the necessary skill set for leadership but (based on research!) recommending gaining more seniority before entering the people management path?

Those new findings – often confirming common sense if we are honest – don`t necessarily mean that we should not develop promising talent early into line management. However, they ask for caution. In the interest of the companies` performance but also in the interest of the talent, who might not profit from a hard start. It also reminds us on how important early leadership training is learn mitigating skills.

And let`s not forget: there are plenty of ways to develop talent.

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