A recently announced paper from the UCL School of Management (though published in October in the Academy of Management Journal) has some interesting findings on leadership.
It puts some quantitative information around what I have felt for years, and which has been written about by leadership experts for a while.
In brief - "According to research by Professor Colin Fisher, leaders in organisations that do complex, knowledge-intensive work often need to provide deep help—spending hours or even days assisting employees with tricky, persistent problems in their work."
Working in communications - I wonder if there are many of my colleagues in this, or other agencies or comms departments who feel as comfortable with a leader parachuted in from other disciplines as they would with a leader who has toiled in the content mines, done their time on the phones to irate journalists and worked into the night to perfect a bit of creative storytelling. I use communications as it's the area I know - but the researchers point out this can apply in business and other areas as well. Do we want someone who has great leadership qualities running a bank without decades of financial industry experience?
We look to leaders to direct but also support the team. Can you have full confidence in their decisions if you know they've not got deep industry expertise?
Learning from those who have done it all before, and who have the industry context and best practise internalised is a highly impactful way of passing on knowledge, helping and improving the organisation.
Some further reading I really do recommend appeared in mid-November in the Harvard Business Review. Can You Be a Great Leader Without Technical Expertise? It's an excellent look at what it means to be a leader today - including this very simple sentence "... 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."
Inspiring leaders are great - everyone likes to be inspired. But when a leader can become part of the team they lead, a player/coach, perhaps it's then we see the results that inspirational part, aspires to.
...many leaders still fear that deep involvement equates to micromanagement.