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You Can Be An Educated Leader, but Education Does Not Make You A Leader

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In the Puget Sound Region and in many areas around the country, localities have the benefits of having in its region several great institutions of higher learning. With this benefit comes a huge dilemma, when you hire someone, do you pick education or experience as the deal maker?

How do you choose? A candidate with years of experience or the candidate with a graduate degree or the person with a bachelor’s degree in another field, but minimal experience in the field or what about the person who has worked in the field for years, but finally finished a bachelor degree in it? Oh you did not see that one coming did you. Most articles taking on this very difficult topic only compare the two, education and experience. But today, with the so many overly experienced professionals out there in the job market and so many college graduates looking for their first position, it’s hard to decide.

Do not just assume that someone with a college degree is going to be hired into a management position and have the ability to take charge of a group of people. For those of you have not served in the military this is why the Armed Forces have senior enlisted ranks to help that fresh out of the academy junior officer not lead his troops into an ambush. Granted there are those junior officers who have failed to embrace the years of experience that comes with the stripes on their senior enlisted mentors sleeve and has paid dearly for it.

Corporate America has done away with the MENTORING Department. They no longer have that person waiting to teach the NEW HIRE the responsibilities of leadership and management. They now expect colleges to teach you how to be a leader. But that raises the question, can you learn to be a leader from a book? Many would hope so because there are new books published everyday on how to become one.

This raises another question, what came first, leadership or the book on how to become a leader?

Colleges and courses normally teach leadership theories and not how to utilize your experienced workers to help mentor both the employees and yourself. Because theories go unpracticed, these types of mentalities sometimes reveal themselves, “What, I have a college degree, I have a Masters, I don’t need to learn anything, and I know it all” or the classic “they taught me in leadership 101……” Then when you’re standing in front of your boss explaining why or worse, you’re cleaning out your office because you did not. This lends itself to the argument that sometimes experience is better.

So obviously, I believe experience is better than education. Nope and here is comes, the twist. I am someone who started his academic certifications later in life and has attained a handful of degrees and certifications from years of classroom education. I can tell you that I wish I had that education when I was in leadership/management positions prior to becoming a college graduate.

I possessed outstanding leadership abilities (some natural and most attained in the Marines) but lacked the understanding of administrative duties. With two prior employers (not counting the military) I was promoted to senior management positions, because of my leadership ability. I will be honest, now that I have my college education, I believe I would have been an even better manager and that would have made me more productive. This ties into Management (administrative) and Leader (Operations) theories.

Were those employers who promoted me into management positions wrong to do that? No, because in both positions, I replaced managers who had college education, but what they lacked were leadership abilities and what the companies needed was someone who could come in and get the employees motivated, focused, and achieve productivity goals the previous manager had set up, but could not attain.

In all fairness, both positions were new start ups and while the job postings for the management positions clearly stated “Four year college degree” the hiring managers were more focused on that then the experience requirements. In any start up operation, you need leadership abilities. You have new employees, doing a new job, and you lack veteran experience especially in a business that started just days before you punched in for the first time.

If your company has been in business for a while and you’re just replacing someone who has left, you might want to just focus on the education, over experience. But if that position is going to be utilized in a new project or your company is in the process of reorganizing, re-structuring, or even switching leadership at the top. Your needs may not be completely focused on administrative and require someone with experience in leadership.

I believe a simple way to look at this. If you’re changing anything that affects people (operations), you need a leader. If it’s changing paper (administrative), you need a manager. If it’s both, well you see where I am going with this. Also, do not be afraid to honestly analyze and accept what type of work force you already have. If they are resistant to change, you need a leader. If they already work well and as a team, you can possible get by with a hybrid. If they are union, you need both at all times.

It is my opinion, if you hiring a manager who is going to be in charge of people working in an operational environment, do not make education the focus of your interview process. I am proud of my college degrees and the education that those very reputable and accredited universities bestowed on me. They did not teach me applied leadership and you cannot learn leadership from a book. No matter how many you read.

You can educate yourself about principals of leadership from publications, but just as with any theory, they don’t work until you have an opportunity to put them into practice. Not everyone can be a leader of people, no matter how much theory you have backing you. It takes a special person to be able to handle the complexity of leadership.

If the position is for a manager, who is not going to be responsible for overseeing people or any change in operations and their position will be more of an administrative manager, then can focus more on education and less on experience.

What if the position is not for management? Can you use the same logic? No. The reason is because your priorities for the position are drastically different. Plus, there are many positions out there that not only require a college degree that are not in leadership roles, but due to the technical specifications of the position, demand a college education and no matter how much closely related experience, you have to have a college degree.

The bottom line to all of this is, right now, with the way our economy has been, do not limit your company’s opportunity to enhance its level of experienced employees by focusing on a line on the job posting. When push comes to shove, education is better and can help solve the problems faced by the ever demanding technical aspects of many jobs, but it’s the leaders who will guide the operation towards success. So you decide, do you need an administrator or a leader.

More to come on this topic: and for information about Training Seminars, please contact me.



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