Subject Matter Expert (SME) to Leader
One of the critical challenges that must be faced by an ambitious Executive, is creating a balance in their authority and presence, from a reliance on their subject matter expertise or professional training, to a balanced and effective, impactful, leadership authority.
20 years ago, as businesses addressed the growing need for knowledge excellence, silos of discipline were created. This supported the war on talent, by attracting high quality individuals to work with higher quality individuals, therefore creating career paths based on their technical or intellectual abilities. From there, technical expertise flourished.
Over the years, the challenges of business have moved from technical to adaptive, to complex issues impacted by volatility, complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity, and with the need for innovation to turn to disruption. With this, known markets have disintegrated right before our eyes, and new ones bounded from the ashes of the disintegrating known.
We have not responded quickly enough with anything like leadership confidence. Organisations have trusted that the executive’s history will in some way provide a basis for building a leadership skill. Leadership programs that are structurally aligned with the organisations goals will more than often provide a common focus on the technical aspects of leadership. As the Executive moves to the more senior or responsible roles, the leadership programs blend the technical with the aspirational, in an effort to build a more effective leadership presence or set of skills, within each Executive.
Unfortunately, the statistics coming from the United States, and by way of general knowledge in Australia, indicate that the majority (83-89%) of leadership programs fail to create a transformational (i.e. core) change to the Executive’s day to day style.
Leadership programs currently available tend to assume a level of ignorance in the participants about leadership; they then provide some element of theory, often linked with a particular leadership concept that we all too often find on the airport bookshelves (Followership, Collaboration, Leadership by Conversation). These programs are successful in producing knowledge and prodding experimentation through occasional action, however, the end result is that that nothing much changes, including the executive participants.
Like all of us, Executives have deep seated resistors to change. The idea of transforming and changing a management style they have built for over 20 years, and have been rewarded for, is a big ask. To ask that a successful, confident Executive balance her or his authority between their expertise and a leadership authority, is a big ask. To do so in a world of immediacy and short-termism is even harder.
But that is not to say it shouldn’t happen, or that it can’t.
It is with Leadership Coaching where we will observe much higher levels of transformational change. In the hands of a very good coach, the Executive can examine his or her resistors to change, can forensically dissect the change the coach offers to assess its quality, and from there, can decide whether or not it is of benefit to them.
This is the challenge of change, person by person. It is also the arena of executive change, from a reliance on their professional, intellectual or experiential authority, to a balance with a growing leadership authority.
With a skilled coach walking beside them challenging greater and greater results, the storyline changes from “This is the way” to “What do you think”? and it is at that moment, that we can face the challenges and exert control.