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Keywords:

  • management;
  • executive leadership;
  • vision;
  • skills development;
  • international development

Executive leadership is about mobilizing, managing, inspiring, and empowering others to achieve goals greater than what can be accomplished through individual works. Leadership flows from but is more than management and administration. Leadership can be learned—and typically is learned over time. This article presents a “hierarchy of executive capabilities”—from Highly Capable Individual, to Contributing Team Member, to Competent Manager, to Effective Leader, to Executive. The central message is that anthropologists, like all technical specialists who contemplate moving into management and up the ladder to executive leadership, must recognize that it will not be possible to stay on the cutting edge of their special area of knowledge and must be willing to give up being “the expert” in that area. This is illustrated through the careers of three anthropologists as they transitioned from traditional areas of anthropological knowledge into management and executive positions of increasing responsibility. The article discusses rewards but also assesses losses that occur along the way. It identifies the skills needed as one transitions up the management ladder and summarizes advice to anthropologists interested in executive careers. It also discusses ways in which a background in anthropology assists or may hinder in executive leadership. The context is primarily the world of international development assistance.