Career path fork: Individual leadership or people leadership?


The importance of leadership can’t be underestimated. But most people tend to think of it as just about leading people. Experts say at a broad level, leadership is of two types: people leadership and individual leadership.

“Leadership is often associated with managing teams,” says Madhur Nevatia, Partner, LONGHOUSE Consulting. In most functions, the roles tend to gravitate towards people management as a person becomes senior. “Most CFOs must necessarily lead teams across functions such as accounting, budgeting, treasury. Similarly, in the human resources function, an initial specialisation like talent acquisition may serve as a starting point but in most cases, a CHRO will experience a natural shift towards people management responsibilities.”

In a corporate landscape, Nevatia says, only some roles naturally align with individual contributors at the highest level. These individuals cultivate deep expertise in complex areas. For example, a lead software architect builds software structure, makes technology choices, supervises quality and implementation. They collaborate with various business heads but have no direct team reporting. “Software architects excel as individual contributors, even at the most senior levels, finetuning their specific, complex craft rather than becoming generalists.”

The choice between being an individual subject matter expert (SME) and assuming managerial responsibilities depends on individual preferences, skills, and career goals.

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