Can you be a great leader without technical expertise?

By: Art Markman November 15, 2017


There is a broad assumption in society and in education that the skills you need to be a leader are more or less transferable. If you can inspire and motivate people in one arena, you should be able to apply those skills to do the same in another venue.

But recent research is rightly challenging this notion. Studies suggest that the best leaders know a lot about the domain in which they are leading, and part of what makes them successful in a management role is technical competence. For example, hospitals managed by doctors perform better than those managed by people with other backgrounds. And there are many examples of people who ran one company effectively and had trouble transferring their skills to the new organization.

Over the last year, I’ve been working with a group at the University of Texas thinking about what leadership education would look like for our students. There is broad consensus across many schools that teach leadership education about the core elements of what leaders need to know. These factors include: The ability to motivate self and others, effective oral and written communication, critical thinking skills, problem solving ability, and skills at working with teams and delegating tasks.

On the surface, this seems like a nice list. Good leaders do have these abilities and if you wanted to create future leaders, making sure they have these skills is a good bet. They need to take in a large volume of information and distill it into the essential elements that define the core problems to be solved. They need to organize teams to solve these problems and to communicate to a group why they should share a common vision. They need to establish trust with a group and then use that trust to allow the team to accomplish more than it could alone.

But these skills alone will not make a leader because, to actually excel at this list of skills in practice, you also need a lot of expertise in a particular domain.

As an example, take one of these skills: thinking critically in order to find the essence of a situation. To do that well, you must have specific, technical expertise. The critical information a doctor needs to diagnose a patient are different from the knowledge used to understand a political standoff, and both of those differ in important ways from what is needed to negotiate a good business deal.

Even effective communication differs from one domain to another. Doctors talking to patients must communicate information differently than politicians reacting to a natural disaster or a CEO responding to a labor dispute. When you begin to look at any of the core skills that leaders have, it quickly becomes clear that domain-specific expertise is bound up in all of them. And the domains of expertise required may also be fairly specific. Even business is not really a single domain. Leadership in construction, semiconductor fabrication, consulting, and retail sales all require a lot of specific knowledge.

A common solution to this problem is for leaders to say that they will surround themselves with good people who have the requisite expertise that will allow them to make good decisions. The problem is that without actual expertise, how do these leaders even know whether they have found the right people to give them information? If managers cannot evaluate the information they are getting for themselves, then they cannot lead effectively.

This way of thinking about leadership has two important implications. First, when we teach people about leadership, we need to be more explicit that domain expertise matters. Just because a person is successful at running one kind of organization does not mean that they are likely to have the same degree of success running an organization with a different mission. Second, when we train people to take on leadership roles, we need to give them practice solving domain-specific problems so that they can prepare to integrate information in the arena in which they are being asked to lead. For example, it isn’t enough just to teach people about how to resolve generic conflicts between employees, we should create scenarios derived from real cases so that people have to grapple with all of the ambiguities that come from the conflicts that arise within particular industries.

This issue is particularly important given the frequency with which people in the modern workplace change jobs and even move across industries. This mobility means that many younger employees may not gain significant expertise in the industry in which they are currently working, which will make it harder for them to be effective in leadership roles.  Companies need to identify prospective future leaders and encourage them to settle down in order to develop the specific skills they need to lead.

5 issues that will shape the future, according to the experts

By: Mark Jones November 12, 2017


Our future’s bright: new technology promises solutions to the world’s biggest problems. But the future’s also frightening: accelerating change is disrupting every aspect of life

Seven hundred experts from the World Economic Forum’s “Future Councils” just met in Dubai to plot a path through these competing forces. Here are some of the key talking points and a small selection of the ideas proposed …

1. The quantity of information is growing at a dizzying speed.

Now’s the time to focus on quality. With more data available than ever before you’d think that the specialists behind these disciplines would be riding high. But many say that those involved in news, information, science – almost anything involving expertise – are having to re-justify themselves.


Proposal: What if we rose to the challenge of “fake news” with a universal standard in media and digital literacy with education on the rights and responsibilities of citizens?


2. Data isn’t enough. It needs to be relatable and actionable.

Big data is enabling the designers of products and services to discover things about human behaviour never spotted before. But might “small data” be an even more powerful agent of change?


Proposal: What if personal health monitors on mobiles lead to behavioural changes in diet and activity that all our research and education have so far failed to achieve?


3. Blockchain could manage everything

Confused about blockchain? Just think of it as a smart kind of database that can track anything. That makes it super-useful for previously intractable global problems.


Proposal: What if blockchain can help us feed a more populous world by conquering the fear of genetically modified crops and lab-grown food?


4. Look at the big picture before you decide what problems need solving

The Forum has just made public its “Transformation Maps” to underline the close links between our biggest global challenges. Zooming out to look at the world in terms of “systems” – how things are linked rather than how they are separated – frees specialists of all kinds to look at challenges afresh. Here’s Robert Muggah talking about how cities are the vital link in the chain when it comes to finding global solutions.

Proposal: What if instead of building more and better types of roads with new technology, we invested in collaborative platforms such as Uber to use current roads much more intensively?

5. It all comes back to trust

Experts tend to be optimists. Yet there’s a clear understanding that the wider public has deep anxieties about the pace of change. If you are worried about losing your job, having to re-skill, or not being able to keep up with the pace of change, it’s easy to start to feel the general system is not acting in your favour and that breeds mistrust. Society is struggling to adapt as fast as technology is moving, leading to suggestions we need to slow the pace of change through regulation, or spread its benefits via things like taxes on robots.

Proposal: What if we can’t adapt as fast as technology and we have to find ways of slowing the pace of change like taxes on robots or other forms of regulation?

One of our best 2016 MBA theses on residual momentum and investor sentiment

Residual momentum and investor sentiment on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE)

By: Louis Egbert Viljoen, 2017



Momentum has been described as the premier financial market anomaly (Fama & French, 2008), but styles based on this phenomenon tend to suffer intermittent crashes (Barroso & Santa-Clara, 2015). The study investigated a variation on momentum that considers only firm-specific returns, determined from the residual remaining after deducting returns attributable to common risk factors, when selecting portfolio constituents. This prevents concentrated exposure to common risk factors in any one portfolio. The method is known as residual momentum and has shown great promise to improve risk-related returns.

Investor sentiment is another financial market phenomenon and is often explained by means of the same behavioural factors as momentum. The study also considered the effect of investor sentiment on momentum in order to document the effect on the JSE, to shed further light on the driving factors behind the phenomena, and to explore practical investment opportunities.

Equally weighted conventional momentum and residual momentum portfolios were constructed from the largest 160 stocks on the JSE on a quarterly basis over the last 27 years in order to compare the styles’ performances. In addition, momentum returns were compared across different sentiment states, defined based on the level of investor sentiment as proxied by a consumer confidence index orthogonalised to various macroeconomic variables.

Residual momentum was found to provide better risk-adjusted returns than conventional momentum on the JSE. Investor sentiment showed an effect on momentum styles, with residual momentum most profitable following pessimistic formation periods and conventional momentum most profitable following non-pessimistic periods.


  • Anomalies
  • Momentum
  • Investor sentiments

7 traits you should look for in a co-founder

By: Sujan Patel March 14, 2016


A business partnership is an entirely different ballgame than  going solo, and it has its own set of unique challenges and considerations. One of those is finding the right partner. Choosing a co-founder for your business is not an easy task, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s okay to be excited about getting your business started, but it’s not something to rush. Remember, this is your livelihood.

Once you’re sure your startup idea will work, consider the following traits that you should look for when selecting a co-founder.

1. Complementary strengths

Like any relationship, you’re at your best when each person brings something to the table that complements and supports the other. Your strengths complement his — or her — weaknesses, and vice versa.

Recognizing your strengths makes it easy to define your roles in the partnership, and that definition makes it easier to hold one another accountable as the business grows. When you run into difficulties in making a decision, it’s nice to have someone who can see things from a fresh perspective. You’ll challenge each other to consider things you wouldn’t normally see on your own.

“I met my co-founder, Thomas Griffin, using the approach of ‘one builds, one sells,’” says Syed Balkhi, founder of OptinMonster. “This means that one of the co-founders is responsible for building the product, while the other sells the product. This complementary approach is a perfect model for many startups.”

2. A thirst for knowledge

A perfect co-founder is one who recognizes that he or she has a lot more to learn. This recognition that the individual doesn’t have it all figured out, coupled with a willingness to learn, will greatly contribute to growth in the right direction.

The concept of constant improvement is a strong value to have.The people best suited for startup life are the ones ready to learn more and take the business beyond what either thought was possible.

3. Shared passion

A co-founder who brings a financial investment is terrific — and might be the one thing you need to get a startup off the ground. But, even more important — and hard to find — is a co-founder who recognizes your drive, mission and passion, and shares it.

You’re starting a business for a reason, and uniting over a common interest is a typical way for two founders to come together.

That’s what brought together Gary Lambert Jr. and Zack Carpenter, the founders of Cyclops Vapor, an eliquid manufacturer. Driven by the desire to produce a quality product that made it easier for people to stop smoking, the two shared a common passion that propelled their company to the top in their industry. As Carpenter says, “We enjoy what we do here. It’s not just about the profits. We have the ability to help people, and it’s pretty awesome.”

“More than likely, your co-founder will be a person with whom you’ve had shared experiences,“ says entrepreneurship and Entrepreneur.comcontributor Neil Patel. “Through such experiences, ‘true motivations are revealed, not declared.’ In other words, you know each other in more than just a superficial way.”

Before you jump into business with someone else, make sure the person you’re working with is committed to the same core values. It’s costly to give up a percentage of your company to someone who quickly loses interest.

4. Adaptability

Having a business partner who is able to think on his feet and adapt to changing situations is critical. In any new business, you’re likely to encounter a fair number of surprises, so find someone who won’t sweat the small stuff and can be flexible when the going gets rough and tough decisions need to be made.

You also want to find a co-founder who isn’t above handling the small tasks that need to be dealt with. This person should have the drive to push the company forward, but the humility to know that sometimes there’ll be a need to answer phones and empty garbage cans — and to smile while doing those tasks.

5. Serious energy

You might think you’ve got enough energy for the team, but you always want to be backed up by someone that has at least as much, if not more, than you. Starting a business is hard work, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

Growth, scaling and survival will eat at your energy stores. When you’re all but tapped out and running on fumes, you want a co-founder with energy to spare who can pick you up and get you motivated to keep running.

6. Integrity and honesty

When you’re involved at the ownership level, there are so many ways for money to disappear and for people to be dishonest. Even beyond cash, there are things a person can do that might call the ethics and morals of a company into question. Those things don’t have to be illegal to permanently damage your business, either.

Find someone who is honest. Communicate up-front that there is an expectation for 100 percent honesty at all times — no exceptions. Remember, finding the right partner isn’t just about skills: It’s also about character.

7. Emotional stability

Emotional stability involves the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. Every owner needs to be able to maintain her cool in the face of the rough times that are common in the startup environment. Getting angry with vendors and customers or falling apart under the weight of stress is detrimental to business. Such habits can destroy relationships and send employees running.

Having success as a startup relies on an owner’s ability to stay calm and not collapse under pressure.

Also make sure you find someone that you get along with outside of work, because building your business will be an around-the-clock endeavor. Find someone you trust, who will take the pitfalls in stride and grow with you. The true measure of a person is not how he or she behaves when things are going well, but when things are going badly.