I read an interesting blog post this week on the HBR site. The post consists of an interview with Harvard Professor Gautum Mukunda. Here is an excerpt (video posted below as well):
The finding: The best leaders tend to be outsiders who don’t have a great deal of experience.
Gautam Mukunda studied political, business, and military leaders,
categorizing them into two groups: “filtered leaders,” insiders whose
careers followed a normal progression; and “unfiltered leaders,” who
either were outsiders with little experience or got their jobs through
fluke circumstances. He then compared the groups’ effectiveness; for
instance, with U.S. presidents, he looked at historians’ rankings from
the past 60 years. He discovered that the unfiltered leaders were the
most effective—and also the least effective—while highly filtered
leaders landed in the middle of the pack.
The challenge: Is searching for a leader with a long, impressive résumé a waste of time? Is experience a predictor of mediocre performance? Professor Mukunda, defend your research.
I was surprised by how unambiguous the data were, but they confirmed
what I suspected: If you choose an insider who you know can do the job
well, most of the time that person won’t perform any differently from
any other top candidate with lots of experience. Such insiders—I call
them “filtered leaders”—might be good, but they probably won’t be
brilliant. It’s the unfiltered leaders, the outsiders without lots of
experience, who perform the very best.
I'm highly skeptical of such a sweeping generalization. I don't think we can argue that outsiders are ALWAYS preferable to insiders, that unfiltered folks are always preferable to experienced individuals. The bottom line is: It depends! Certain circumstances call for an outsider or a person with fresh perspective, while others lend themselves to an insider or someone with deep experience in an industry or company. Each company needs to assess its situation and make the right choice for that organization, given its strategy and culture, AT THAT POINT IN TIME. The right solution for Company XYZ in 2012 may not make sense in 2018, as conditions change. Moreover, the search for that superstar outsider can be a futile one, as I've written about in earlier blog posts. We sometimes become enamored with the outside "star" hire... and then feel very underwhelmed a few years later.