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Is Leadership an Occupation?

Is Leadership an Occupation?

Sharlyn Lauby | HR Bartender

September 27, 2010

Recently, I met someone who’s looking for a new opportunity (read: they’re unemployed). When I asked them what kind of work they were looking for, they said they wanted to be a leader.

It took me a few moments to process the reply. I hadn’t really spent a lot of time considering it. Is being a leader an occupation?

I mean, leaders exist in all different kinds of organizations – big/small, public/private, for profit/not-for-profit. In a wide variety of industries – tech, health care, hospitality, transportation, etc. That leads me to believe that being a leader isn’t a totally nebulous term. There’s an expectation a leader in an organization has to be a leader at something. Meaning you need to have some kind of technical knowledge in order to be a successful.

So needless to say, I’m struggling with leader as an occupation.

Then, the Harvard Business Review blog published a post about management being an occupation. You can check it out here – It’s a thought provoking post. Fortunately or unfortunately, it added another layer of complexity to my thoughts.

Is being a leader an occupation?

Is being a manager an occupation?

Are being a leader and a manager the same thing?

Can manager be an occupation and leader not? Or vice versa?

Maybe the part I’m having challenges with is that it’s coming from a candidate. For years, companies have tossed around the philosophical question – what’s more important, having leadership skills or industry experience? That whole idea of whether we should hire for attitude and train for skill. Somehow, it just sounds different coming from a candidate.

Which then poses the question…how would a candidate “sell” that idea to a prospective employer? Basically, the candidate is saying, “I have no industry experience and no technical knowledge but I’d like you to hire me because I’m good at leading a group of people.”

I wonder what companies would do with that resume…

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. It has such implications for our companies – would you hire a proven leader with no industry or technical experience? And is that different than hiring a manager with no technical experience?

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