Something interesting about leadership is that the higher you go up an organization, to be promoted, you must let go of the very thing that got you there. Here’s a statement about this transition from Harvard Business School‘s Executive Education Program:

Most managers achieve success in the early phases of their careers through increased specialization—continually refining their expertise in a single functional area. At some point in their careers, however, the best of these specialists face a difficult challenge: to re-create themselves as generalists. Almost overnight, they must develop new skills and adopt a business wide perspective to become effective strategists, organization builders, and leaders.

Suppose you were an engineer and had a Ph.D. in engineering. Or perhaps you have a background in finance or IT. In your first position, or perhaps even your second position, you would be hired because of your expertise in engineering, finance, or IT. However, in your third promotion or beyond, you would most likely have been promoted for reasons that had nothing to do with engineering, finance, or IT. You may have gone from being an engineer, to head of an engineering unit, to head of a division, to becoming a VP, and then into the C-suite. The further you go up this chain, the further you are from that first specialization/first job.

What will get you promoted? The most clear answer is that it has nothing to do with your speciality. So you do not get promoted by being an excellent engineer, though that may be the very reason they hired you in the first place. At this point something else is required, leadership. What do leaders know that others do not know? What do they practice to get that promotion or raise? The most obvious first step is that they have to give up what they are good at to become a leader in their organization. This is a hard thing to do. Can you give up the very thing that you excel at? Can you give up the years of education, training, and mindset that you have put into your specialization? If not, you may be an excellent engineer or finance whiz but it’s very unlikely you’ll truly become a high level leader in your organization.