Over Qualified

We have all to some extent undergone upheaval in our markets, businesses and careers. I have also continued to hear the phrase “over qualified” when it comes to new roles or new career paths. I have commented many times in the past about the fact that the way I look at the world can be considered to be out of step with the accepted norms, or conversely just “different”. Perhaps it is now proper for business managers to understand that throughout change in order to successfully lead you probably need to be out of step with the accepted management norms and be different.

My first question is: How can anyone be considered overqualified? As a leader don’t you want everyone on the team to be as wildly successful at their responsibilities as is humanly possible? Doesn’t the very act of them being successful by its definition make you successful? Don’t the most qualified individuals have the greatest probability of being successful?

Who will knowingly take on a team member with less training, or less education, or less experience, or any other material qualification than another potential team member? You have to pardon me here, but I can never remember thinking that I was looking for someone with lower qualifications. I was, and continue to always look for the best possible team members.

So if this is the case for the majority of business leaders, why is there so much being written about people being over qualified for various opportunities? I understand that the markets have changed and there are many people with significant capabilities whose previous positions for one reason or another no longer exist. However, their knowledge and capabilities are still there and can be an incredible resource to any team.

I think it comes down to the difference between management and leadership. Leaders want the best on their teams. Strong and qualified team members drive the leader to be just that, a leader. Leaders need to have the confidence to embrace the challenge of leading a talented and possibly “over” qualified team. It seems that over qualified people may need unqualified leadership.

It also seems that managers may also only want the best on their teams but with the only stipulation being that the team member not be a challenge, to them. Leaders understand that they may not have the market cornered on hard work or good ideas. They look for team members that can challenge them and each other while working toward the business’ goals and objectives. Managers may have a tendency to view this sort of behavior as a challenge to their personal authority instead of an opportunity for everyone to do better.

This type of behavior is not a challenge to authority, but it is a challenge to manage and lead.

Highly qualified individuals in my experience are probably more prone to display this sort of challenging behavior. If they think they have a good idea, or see an issue with the current plan they are apt to voice it. I think this is a very good trait. Leaders should not be the only ones pushing things forward; or rather I guess I should say that leaders are the primary ones pushing things forward, I just prefer that there be multiple people pushing on the team.

Better qualifications usually come with time. More time in school usually equates to a better educational qualifications. More time in training equates to a more work ready resource. More experience means that someone already has a track record of performance in similar or equivalent roles. When a leader is looking for someone for their team, these are exactly the types of qualifications they should be looking for.

A manager on the other hand may be concerned that someone could potentially have qualifications, or worse the capabilities to actually perform that manager’s job. That insecurity seems to me to be at the root of the “over qualified” argument. After all, who would want to bring someone onto the team that might be a better or more capable performer than the manager of the team?

A leader would.

This approach does not mean that you should look for only the most educated, trained and experienced. Having those qualifications does not necessarily make them the best. There is also a little thing called “talent” that must be factored in, and it knows no age limitation. The talented can be young or old, it doesn’t matter. Talent is more qualitative in nature and I cannot think of any hard and fast rules for identifying it. But I think we all know it when we see it.

I have mentioned in the past that I am a would-be musician. I enjoy music. I understand its theory. I practice. When you are doing something that you enjoy, practice is not work. But I also understand that I do not have the innate talent for music that others may have. It just means that I have to work at it harder than some for whom it comes naturally. It is a challenge to me and for me to keep up with them. And boy is that fun. To take the analogy one step further, even in music I try to search out and play with those musicians that are more talented than I am, because in turn it makes me a better musician for having played with them. There is no being “over qualified” here either.

None of us should expect to inhabit the roles we are in forever. Each assignment is indeed a step in our careers. Just as the roles associated with the members of the team are presumably steps in their careers. A certain amount of change is good for both the team and the individual. It keeps the organization vibrant. Obviously too much of a good thing can be detrimental. I think we have all been in organizations where the turnover rate exceeded a healthy level started to cause issues.

The point here is that having the best qualified people in the organization provides a capability to deal with both leadership and team changes. Team members need to be capable of and prepared to step in and step up to new roles as they occur. Having well qualified team members provides added strength to the team and the organization as a whole.

As I pointed out, leaders should not only consider the most trained, most educated and most experienced people for their positions. On the contrary, a leader always looks for the best qualified and most talented candidate for each specific position. Being educated, trained and experienced may be an indication of talent but it should not be the only criteria. Having education, training, experience and talent in one discipline, say accounting, does not make that person the best qualified candidate for a role in marketing. However if the role in question was in accounting, I would be hard pressed to agree with any statement to the effect that the person described above was “over qualified”.

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