Armchair critic

After reading the article by Mike Myatt The Most Common Leadership Model - And Why It’s Broken published by Forbes on March 28, 2013, I could not resist offering a few comments.

Personally, I highly value competency and disagree with the premise that when organizations hire, develop, and promote leaders using a competency-based model, they’re unwittingly incubating failure. While I believe that technical competency alone does not make you a great leader, it is still a necessary element of performing well at any leadership position. However, I acknowledge that I might harbour a bias coming from a highly technical information technology industry.

Myatt’s arguments

Myatt’s article states that organizations tend to overvalue technical competency of individuals rather than their soft skills and reward technical competency over aggregate contribution. Thus, he reasons that the individuals who get rewarded in the present organizations are the ones who display highest level of technical competence. To the contrary, the author believes that the most important thing is not our knowledge, but rather how we use the knowledge to inspire others. In order to support his point, the author further states that competency should be expected and assumed instead of measured and rewarded.

Furthermore, Myatt believes that companies which use practices such as competency-based interviews, models, and performance reviews are long overdue for a change to instead consider things such as character, passion, EQ, creativity, etc. He states that, while the job of a leader is to close gaps, competency-based models create alignment gaps at every level - organizational gaps, talent gaps, leadership gaps, cultural gaps, diversity gaps, positional gaps, value gaps, operational gaps, execution gaps, and the list could go on. Thus, to get the job done, organizations need to reward soft skills first.

And yet…

There are two main weaknesses in Myatt’s argument: insistence on assuming competence and disregard of respect, which is an important soft skill.

From my experience, to assume competence without measuring it is not a reasonable thing to do. I observed too many people in information technology who are sorely lacking in technical skills to do their job effectively. Myatt states in his article that it is easy to measure technical competency, so why not measure it to ensure individuals can perform and succeed? If we look at most successful leaders of Information Technology, we see highly technically competent people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg. While they all possess excellent leadership skills, technical competence is no less important to their success. For example, Steve Jobs meticulously inspected and put finishing touches on all Apple products before their release to the public, which led to their dominance in the smartphone and tablet markets.

While the aforementioned leaders were not the nicest or the most pleasant people to work with, the reason programmers followed them and remained motivated is respect. Myatt did not consider this soft skill in his article. However, in general, programmers, or any other scientific and engineering people have trouble staying motivated when they are led by someone who they do not respect. In Information Technology and, possibly, other engineering industries, respect is earned based on technical competence, and leaders who master their trade have easier time leading and getting the most out of their subordinates.

Last words

In summary, it helps to view Mike Myatt’s article as not a one-fit-all advise, but rather a useful perspective specific to the industry you work in. Perhaps, his conclusions are more appropriate for some industries rather than others. Undoubtedly, technical competence is a part of the equation to leadership success, but the question to consider is whether the competence is small part of the equation as Myatt states, or something much bigger and more important than that.

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