Never Trust So-Called Experts

Posted July 3, 2013 in Latest News & Insights

My Dad had an expression: “never trust so-called experts”.  He’d come to this conclusion based on a lifetime of people offering “know-it-all” advice that was invariably incorrect.  His theory was that the more the person positioned themselves as an “expert”, the less they probably knew.  The world of leadership development is filled with people who claim to be “thought-leaders”, “guru’s” and “experts”.  Although most have valid ideas and tools to share, here’s why you shouldn’t blindly follow their word as “law”:

  1. Leadership is an ongoing journey… anyone who tells you that they’re a leadership guru is just flat out lying.  I’ve been leading for over twenty years (actually line leading… not “talking about leading”) and every single day I learn something new about my own leadership through self reflection and observation of others.  Perhaps, because I’ve spent lots of time having the opportunity to naval gaze about my leadership, I have a few more leadership tools in my kit bag than others… but I’m no guru.  And neither is anyone who says they are.
  2. People who can’t do, teach… I’ve heard Marcus Buckingham (the strengths guy) admit this; I’ve heard Patrick Lencioni (the Five Dysfunctions of team guy) admit this; I’ve heard leadership profs at top name universities (somewhat) admit this.  The reality is, most people who are out there professing to be experts about leadership and teaching leadership have had very limited exposure to the actual task of leading.  I’m not saying that theory isn’t helpful and there isn’t a place for academia (obviously there is), but the rubber hits the road when theory gets applied and that’s often where things usually fall apart.  I have equal (if not more) respect for people who’ve gone through the fire of hands-on leadership and who are willing to share their wisdom than I do for consultants who preach (often with know-it-all arrogance) about building better teams but who actually don’t lead teams in their own organizations because they’re crappy at it.  Leadership is challenging and it’s easy to sit on the sidelines and preach.  Get into the pit people!
  3. Leadership competency grids are mostly bullsh*t…  I’ve seen countless competency models that schools, consulting firms and hr people have developed to try and put a box around what you need to do to be a good leader.  The reality is that if everyone in your organization demonstrated all these behaviours, you’d probably find yourself in group-think deadlock.  Leadership isn’t a fixed list of competencies…it’s more like a toolkit that you need to access depending on the situation.  Art needs to blend with science and fixed competency definitions only provide part of the equation.  There is no ONE WAY to lead and a set of static competencies will never address the dynamic shifts in business that require different approaches at different times. (Oh, and working on competencies is actually a waste of time if you’re not clear on who you are at the core… start on the inside first.)
  4. Leadership development is big business… any leadership firm that has THE assessment tool that will make you a better leader, or THE method that will make you a better leader or THE course that will make you a better leader is frankly lying.  A consulting firm makes their money from selling you their approach.  There are a million ways that you can boost your leadership skills.  There is never ONE way so don’t believe people who tell you they’ve got the silver bullet.

The only person that can make you a better leader is you.  As leaders, we all need to keep learning and growing and evolving… and WE are the only ones who can improve by putting new ideas into practice, reflecting on what we’ve learned and striving to be better.  Anyone who tells you they’ve got it all figured out when it comes to leadership should be met with a healthy degree of skepticism.

Happy leading!

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