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Is work experience overrated?

March 5, 2008

You need to hire someone to turn around an ailing company and you have 2 choices. One candidate has 30 years work experience. The other is less experienced but has kick-ass charisma that you believe can spark change. Who would you take?

I would consider charisma over experience for 3 reasons:

– Too often, experienced people are hostile towards change
– Experienced managers don’t necessarily make good leaders
– When it comes to making drastic changes, the ability to inspire is more critical than the ability to organize detailed work

I’m not saying that charismatic people are risk-free. People who like to talk big but cannot deliver are a dime a dozen but good talkers who can also deliver, though rare, do exist. The thing is whether you have the smarts to separate the gems from the duds.

Let me add on to why I say charismatic leadership has higher importance when it comes to leading change. You can’t turn a company around and hope it’ll last without subjecting the work culture to some kind of a shock. You know, mindsets, attitudes, stuff like that. Would you use the traditional brute-force method of changing people’s job scopes and get snarked all the way? Or would you inspire people into modifying their own behavior? Which type of change do you think is more effective and lasting?

So yeah, if its change I want, I’d choose a charismatic leader over an experienced guy any day but of course, I’ll make sure the leader is no greehorn either. By that I mean he must have served his time in the workforce, has believers and has convictions that you believe are workable.

What’s wrong with experienced people leading change? Nothing, provided they ditch the attitude that only the young and naive talk about the need for change, like one of my ex bosses who was completely oblivious to the changes in the market yet complains about why customers aren’t loyal any more. The classic argument with many people is if it worked for the last 30 years why should they change it? That mindset, I think, neatly sums up why many companies get stuck in the mud.

In the end who you take will depend on what you intend to achieve. If you want someone to carry on the status quo, then go for experience. If its change you want, the last thing you wanna do is bring in some old geezer who’s constantly suspicious of change.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Glenn permalink
    May 2, 2009 3:07 am

    One big reason experience tends to get preferred is because of the overblown fear of making a hiring mistake. If the experienced person doesn’t work out, the people on the hiring committee can state “At least he looked good on paper.”

    Yeah its like hiring a consultant. Great credentials don’t always mean great results.

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