Thursday, May 24, 2012

How necessary is industry or job specific experience for leaders?

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I had an interesting conversation yesterday and thought of my Leader readers.  I’m curious to know what you think about the importance of fully understanding what your subordinates do.  Some folks are of the opinion that to lead well you need to have been in the trenches and really understand the environment your subordinates work in.  They believe that without this real life experience a leader cannot effectively lead because they don’t have a full understanding of the demands and expectations that their team experiences.  Others feel that leadership in and of itself is universal and most of what leaders do translates from industry to industry leaving what your subordinates “do” as minor details.

What are your thoughts?

To answer my own question I have one observation – if you are one of the leaders that doesn’t have the experience that your subordinates do, be open to learning the nitty gritty details so that when you make attempts to motivate them your advice is relative to their needs.  I’ve seen first-hand attempts by leadership to implement new strategies and/or provide industry specific tools that don’t really relate to their audience that leave subordinates feeling discouraged by their leaders clear misunderstanding of the details of their job.  By the same token I’ve seen a team rally around an inexperienced (by way of industry specifics) leader that is open about their lack of knowledge but who has displayed a sincere interest to learn those details.

It's Your Turn:

How do you feel about the necessity of clearly understanding the details of your subordinates roles?  What has been your experience in this area and do you have any take-aways to share with us?


  1. I think it really depends on what type of work subordinates are doing.. .

    Having worked on large web development projects under both technically experienced managers and non-technically experienced managers, generally... it's nicer to work under a technically experienced manager, largely because they have a better understanding of what life is like as a subordinate AND if needed, they can be used as a soundboard for additional technical assistance.

    It's not that a less technical manager can't do the job, but it generally means that until a manager learns a degree of technical jargon, there's an added responsibility on the subordinate of having to explain yourself constantly to the manager because the manager doesn't automatically know what you're talking about... Over time, some people catch on and that's awesome... but with some people it's in one ear and out the other, and when that's the case... it ends up being a huge problem with productivity.

    1. Nikkiana,

      I agree, especially in technical industries that experience is likely necessary. I tend to lean that direction in most instances because I personally feel that working knowledge is necessary to build on the bigger picture.

      Thanks for the response!


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