Not all leaders are born with a clipboard in hand and a team of professionals at the ready. Many of today’s leaders are experts in their field, whether it be an established dichotomy or a new technology. This usually happens when experts are promoted from within to leadership roles. These experts are valuable members of your team, but ones who have shown leadership qualities and the initiative to take their expertise and experience to the next level.
There can be challenges when promoting an expert to a leadership role. Becoming an effective manager isn’t something that happens overnight, and many first-time managers find it difficult to transition to a leadership role from that of a lone wolf subject matter expert.
One huge mistake experts make when they become leaders is not transitioning that expertise to their team smoothly. Rather, they prefer to maintain expert status along with leader status, which can create divides within the team. Not willing to pass on that expertise creates an environment in which team members may feel that their own expertise is devalued, along with reinforcing a strict hierarchy.
These stress points can lead to resentment, negative shifts in attitudes and loss of personal performance. So how does a former expert, now a leader, avoid making these mistakes?
First, an expert-as-leader needs to establish a level of trust with their team. One of the best ways to do this is through an open and sharing environment. Seeking and following through on the ideas of their team is a great way to show that these new leaders are ready to accept their role. Another key to establishing trust is grooming and training a new expert so more focus can be put towards the management part of the job, rather than hoarding expertise.
This leads directly to the teaching part of being a leader. It is the duty of an effective manager to train their team is not only company policy, but in the details of the individual jobs as they relate to the overall vision and growth plan of the business as a whole. There is going to be a knowledge gap when the expert becomes the leader and that gap needs to be filled, but not by the leader themselves.
Teaching and training new experts will alleviate the stress points that may appear when an expert is promoted. Teaching and training show a commitment to team development that is paramount to growth, both professional and personal.
While part of being a leader is being an expert, another part of being a leader is being able to draw out more experts from the team. The next expert could be a future leader as well but just needs that motivation to move to the next level. Yet, when an expert becomes a leader, that expertise that got them there must now be passed on to the team, as the leadership qualities of developing and supporting others become the centerpiece.
This type of change, from expert to a leader, taking into account passing on expertise and cultivating growth and supporting employees, is the type of transition you want to see when an expert is promoted to a leadership role. Leaders that were experts in their concentration tend to make leaders that are not only versed in the minute details of their area of business, but ready and willing to cultivate new leaders to follow them.