Why are Leaders Successful? – Knowledge and Skills

July 28, 2020 Share this article:

By Tony Leng, Managing Director of Diversified Search and the heads up the Technology and Private Equity practices. He also leads the firm’s San Francisco office.

This blog was first published on Tony’s blog, to view the original post, click here.

This blog should be read in conjunction with the previous blog – as they build on one another and the last blog spoke about Personality and Values. This post will focus on Knowledge and Skills, and also touch on Complexity. In subsequent blogs, I will unpack Complexity and Maturity in detail, as they are crucial.

Knowledge and Skills address our education and work experience – which are most easily captured in a resume. Qualifications (and experience) help us land our first job and are often the drivers of our early career, but seldom predict where we will end up. They launch our career, but it is how we use our Knowledge and Skills, our ability to connect the dots, to deal with complexity and lead that ultimately determine where that career may take us.

There is almost an inverse relationship between Knowledge and Skills and Complexity as we move up in our careers – this is best described in the diagram below:

knowledge and skills

What this diagram conveys is that as we move up in our careers, our ability to solve future problems depends less on what we know/learned in the past, and increasingly depends on how we understand and interpret complexity. Taking this thought to its logical conclusion, disruption occurs when we are able to synthesize multiple data points (technology, societal trends, consumer sentiment etc.) and create new insights and business models, which challenge the current set of products and services, or ways of doing things.

We’ll get to detailed examples of this later, but to illustrate: think of the taxi industry, add technology (smartphones and location services), unused capacity (cars and drivers) and you get Uber. Someone connected the dots.

I don’t want you to think that Knowledge and Skills are unimportant. Life is a journey — our Knowledge and Skills are crucial and should be continuously advanced. A learning proclivity and curious mind are as essential as our ability to connect the dots, and we should always be attempting to master something new. You must be aware of the dots if you want to connect them! Always try to be learning something new – keep your mind agile. After all, how will you change your company if you can’t change yourself?

In the next blog, I am going to focus on Complexity. The number of variables that need to be taken in to account by a strategy executive compared to an AP clerk are vast. There is a way to measure different levels of complexity, and in the next blog I am going suggest how to do it, and why it is important for senior executives to understand.

Related Practice

Leadership Consulting