Leadership Solutions from Read Solutions Group: The Expert Leader

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Expert Leader

Mary is a sales manager responsible for leading a team to develop and maintain at key accounts. She has garnered the respect of her team and her leadership through her keen ability to resolve issues with the customers. When there’s a problem, she analyzes the situation, thinks through options, defends her position and takes pride in working through to a successful conclusion.


Mary is typical of leadership at the Expert Level. She is a strong problem-solver who had developed an ability to think independently, to analyze the situation and to take a stand when she knows she’s right. With a focus on the steps to be taken and the desired outcomes, she leads her team through implementations of the solutions. She works hard to develop, support and defend her team, making sure that she is always pushing them for further growth. She thrives on being seen as the expert who understands the business and the customers.


Expert Leaders build strong relationships within their organization and with their management, yet tend to put little energy into building relationships with other units. The Expert Leader’s focus on analysis and tactics frequently leads them to focusing more on the “rightness” of their position, rather than buy-in, from their own group or from other key stakeholders. They frequently overlook the impact of stakeholder’s views on the ultimate effectiveness of a solution. Driving to solve problems, the Expert Leader deals with each issue as a discrete problem, often losing the opportunity to step back and find a broader, innovative solution.


The Expert Leader is unlikely to seek feedback from her team or peers. This plays out in different ways, depending on the natural style of the individual. With an assertive style, she will frequently overlook or dismiss options that suggest she’s less than fully correct. With an accommodating style, he’ll frequently overload himself with work, correcting other’s work to his standards, and limiting his availability to give feedback and coaching. A key development challenge for the Expert Leader is finding a style that opens them up to giving and receiving feedback.


Within her organizational unit, an Expert Leader is likely to function more as a supervisor than a manager. Problem-solving and direction-setting discussions are typically held one-on-one, with group meetings relegated to information sharing. In fact, the direct reports of an Expert Leader are likely to function as a group, at best, and rarely as the team that might arise if the Expert Leader were more open to other opinions and options.


Developing the Expert Leader

  1. Define the leadership ideal. The Expert Leader is working towards an ideal of being smart, efficient, capable, and looked to as the Expert. Challenge the Expert Leader to observe the style of leaders they admire, and to notice how they look to and motivate others to make more strategic changes.
  2. Learn to seek feedback. The Expert Leader finds it faster and more efficient to advocate for their position. Seeking feedback requires the Expert Leader to find a balance between efficiency and effectiveness. Feedback can start with understanding the impact of their style through a 360 assessment. In addition, the Expert Leader can be challenged to notice when input from a broader group resulted in a better outcome. The Expert Leader is often unaware of how their biases, beliefs and standards may blind them to alternatives; place the Expert Leader into situations where their existing frameworks cannot be taken for granted.
  3. Build team leadership skills. The Expert Leader can be coached to use meetings to generate and listen to ideas, to leverage the skills of the team members and to build group understanding and buy-in to a direction. The Expert Leader may need to retain ultimate decision-making authority; yet schooled in curiosity and inquiry, the Expert Leader can learn how to develop a team.

In the next posting, we’ll contrast the Expert Leader with the Achiever in how they view leadership, how they manage pivotal conversations, and their agility in leading teams.

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