Posted by: Brandon W. Jones | April 5, 2011

Extensive Job Specific Knowledge or Previous Leadership Experience?

Lately, I have thought a lot about hiring new leaders.  What is more important:  someone with extensive job specific knowledge or someone with previous leadership experience?  When hiring a new person, the ideal situation would be to hire someone with both extensive job specific knowledge and previous leadership experience.  However, this is not always possible.  What do you do then?

Well first let’s look at what characteristics the two types bring to the table. 

Extensive Job Specific Knowledge The person with extensive job specific knowledge knows the ins and outs of the existing working environment.  They know what has worked well in the past and what hasn’t.  They also know how to deal with people specific to the working environment.  All these aspects create a foundation from which they can lead. 

Because this type of person only has job specific knowledge without the leadership experience, they also have some downsides.  They may struggle in making quick decisions regarding personnel.  They also may have limited knowledge of how to respond when faced with challenges.  Their inexperience as a leader can appear as a lack of confidence in their personal abilities which could show through to their employees.

Previous Leadership Experience The person with leadership experience has background in handling different situations.   They know how to handle problems within an organization and the know how to lead change.  They should also know how to inspire people to do their best.  There are many other attributes which they should have to be a great leader.

As with the person with extensive job specific knowledge and no leadership experience, the experienced leader without the job specific knowledge also has weaknesses that will show through as they take over.  These leaders may start by making lots of mistakes because they don’t have the necessary knowledge to make the correct decisions.  They also have a tendency to not ask questions because they feel it is a sign of weakness as the leader.  This type of leader will probably not be able to answer the employees’ questions regarding job related topics because they won’t know the answers. 

Of these two types of new leaders, which is more important to you and why?  Who would you choose?

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Responses

  1. Brandon, as a leader I find that in hiring others it is more important that the applicant shows ability as a leader more so than job specific knowledge. I work in sales, and don’t expect everyone I hire to know the in’s and out’s of my business. That is always teachable, where good leadership skills may not be.

    In today’s economic climate, I find that many employers will pass up great candidates (myself included) who don’t share both qualities from the start and that they are searching for the perfect fit that may not exist.
    Miriam

    • Welcome Miriam! I have found what you said to be very true. Many hiring managers are much more interested in someone that is a good leader than someone who has experience in the industry. I appreciate your comment and feedback. Thanks, Brandon

  2. […] If you are a leader facing the situation where your company is struggling to survive, my heart goes out to you.  During a time like this, you must manage how your employees perceive you and the company stability.  As the leader, perception is everything, so you must manage the how the employees perceive the situation.  If your employees think that the company is in bad shape, they may want to jump ship.  It is possible that if they jump ship, they will be premature if things are better than they realize.  Once one person leaves, others will begin to follow.  If that happens, you will lose your talent and then everything will go downhill from there. […]

  3. […] as GE has identified, there are two types of leaders:  those with job specific leadership knowledge and those with extensive leadership experience.  If you want to be a great leader, is it more valuable for you to focus on a specific area to […]

  4. […] as GE has identified, there are two types of leaders:  those with job specific leadership knowledge and those with extensive leadership experience.  If you want to be a great leader, is it more valuable for you to focus on a specific area to […]


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