When Technical Expertise & Leadership Clash

'Hotel Video'

10 April 2023
Effective Storytelling - Podcast
Short stories with key learning points for personal development and professional development. Often to make you smile, and always to make you think.
If a technical expert is promoted into management, which one dominates – and how will it affect their own performance, and that of others?

you'll like this story if you're interested in...

I ran a leadership team building residential, located at a country hotel. The event required each team member in turn to lead the rest of the group through a time-limited task. The task was different for each leader. I was a ‘fly on the wall’ observer for each task.

One of the tasks required the team to make a promotional video for the hotel. The designated team leader, in allocating key tasks, chose for himself the role of video cameraman, and from that moment and that decision, the task fell apart.

from that moment and that decision, the task fell apart.

Firstly, the leader had to be trained in how to use the camera and TV monitor, which took him away from the group he was supposedly leading, leaving them with a vague instruction to ‘work out a plan’. When he returned to the group he immediately asked if someone had a car with a rooftop, so he could video the picturesque approach to the hotel. When the chosen car also had a stereo, he was delighted – there would be a musical accompaniment to the shot.

Off he went, with his driver – again, leaving the team to fend for itself. (They had done as requested, and produced an outline plan, but the leader had ignored it in the rush to ‘get on with the video’). The team were still deciding among themselves what they should be doing now, when the leader returned, dashed in with the video, and played it through the TV monitor. The visuals were lovely – but where was the musical soundtrack?

The leader turned accusingly to the technician, asking if the equipment was faulty. The technician calmly took the leader through the equipment set up, and discovered that the leader has failed to switch the external microphone on.

Furious with his mistake, and now under time pressure, he grabbed the camera and dashed back with his driver to the car. He still had given no time to the rest of the group….and in his haste he’d left the video tape in the TV monitor!

I waited, and watched the rest of the group, now feeling distinctly leaderless, just sit waiting for their next assignment (disinclined to proceed since their first task had not yet been considered or signed off). I mentally calculated the time it would take for the leader to discover his mistake and rush back. Sure enough, after about 10 minutes, we all heard the squeal of tyres on the loose gravel outside, as the leader rushed in, ejected the tape, and turned to me:

“You knew I’d left this in the machine!” he said. I simply responded that I was a passive observer, and couldn’t intervene. Furious, he grabbed the tape, and without a glance at the rest of the group, set off once more to make the driveway shot…

Teams, especially in their early days, or for a time constrained project, need clear leadership; someone to manage, allocate and co-ordinate the various tasks, and to keep the project on time.

Teams need clear leadership; someone to manage, allocate and co-ordinate tasks, and to keep the project on time. 

There are several take aways from this story:

  • How familiarity breeds contempt
  • Detail versus the bigger picture
  • Urgent versus important
  • Being busy is not always being effective

How familiarity breeds contempt

Anyone who is a technical expert, or wants to be one, might end up spending their time in that area, rather than in the new management or leadership task they’ve been given. And in neglecting that role, they are also neglecting those who depend on that role – the rest of the team. So being familiar with, or developing familiarity with, the technical – in this case at least – led to the leader treating his team, in effect, with contempt…

Detail versus the bigger picture

As the team leader became immersed in the technical role, he completely lost sight of the bigger picture. The task of creating a hotel promotional video required far more sub-tasks than filming the approach to the hotel: for example, it needed videos of conversations with hotel staff, and coverage of the various facilities – none of which could happen without the camera, and the team felt helpless without guidance or instruction.

Urgent versus important

To the leader, completing the driveway video was important, and eventually it became urgent, due to (his) successive failures. His complete focus on what (for him) was important and urgent, meant that the importance of the bigger picture task was completely neglected. When working under urgency as a priority, importance of other tasks tend to get neglected…

Being busy is not always being effective

The leader was certainly busy; so busy he had no time for, or awareness of, the bigger picture that was being neglected. So how many of us might spend the day being busy, without being effective – largely because by being busy in the moment, we fail to pay attention to or neglect other requirements which in the end, determine how effective (or not) we have been…

It is amost impossible for a leader to be effective if they allocate themselves a key specialist role. As they become more involved in the delivery of that role, their leadership role suffers. 
Effective Storytelling - Podcast
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