In a recent master’s course we were asked which we would choose – a leader with technical competence or more influence. Technical competence is of great importance to our group since it is a Masters in Computer Information Systems. The majority of us, of course, said we would like a little of both, but we also leaned heavily toward influence over technical competence. Technical competence is wonderful when it comes to understanding the micro-level of a project or a plan. For instance, a software developer would be overwhelmed, unproductive or even destructive without technical knowledge of the problem and the solution. However, the upper levels of leadership need different skills.
This is not to imply that leaders are not technically savvy, far from it. The relevant skills of middle or executive level leaders are more in their influence or power to get things done. Let’s explore the software developer mentioned a moment ago a little deeper. This person could be a wizard when it comes to creating the next iPhone or Android app, but maybe he or she really likes to work from home or might need a nice quiet space to focus. While the upper leaders are not the ones doing the coding work, they are ensuring the software developer has the time and the tools he or she needs to do the work required.
The leader understands the needs of the business and translates those needs to the team. The team’s work is incredibly valuable; it is up to the leader to make sure it is appropriately applied or understood. What if the software developer needs additional resources – maybe a deadline extension or overtime pay? It is up to the leader to work out issues with customers, other departments or higher leaders in order to keep the entire project on task while supporting the team. That is the true skill of a leader – getting others (over whom they have no authority) to support his or her team. In order to do this, leaders MUST have at least a baseline of technical knowledge, but they need a lot more influence. In my opinion, I would much rather work with or for a leader who has the ability to get me what I need to get the job done instead of being technically fluent.
– Lori Buresh
CEO, The Professional Development Team