The Problem With Being the Expert

Ken has a problem.

Ken's a finance control manager within a global finance organization.

Like of the leaders I coach, Ken's very smart. In fact, when it comes to his business specialty, he's a subject matter expert. Ken knows the work of his team inside and out.

So what's Ken's achilles heel? Communicating clearly. He knows this. He's gotten feedback about it in the past multiple times. When he came to me for coaching, Ken told me, "I don't get to the point, and others tune me out."

Rather than talk about the issue in theory, we jumped into practice. I had Ken share a sample presentation that he might make on the job. He stood up, and within one minute, in the middle of his presentation, he shared this sentence:

It's important that we syndicate the deliverable with original relevant stakeholders within the governance framework.

Really, that's what he said. I know, because I wrote the sentence down word for word. (I couldn't make that up if I tried.)

When Ken finished, I read his sentence back to him. He smiled. I asked him what the smile was about. He said, "That's exactly what I mean." I then told him I didn't have the foggiest inkling of what any of it meant. He smiled again, and told me that he was surprised at my reaction.

Ken suffers from experts syndrome. He's more attached to his ideas then making sure others understand his ideas. In fact, concepts are more real for him than people. As such, Ken prizes "the answer" above all else.

Now, if he worked in a world without other people, this wouldn't be a problem. But he does. So this is. Ken's ideas only have clarity in one specific place: his own mind.

Ken's not intentionally trying to confuse others. In fact, he genuinely believes the complexity of his ideas adds more value. From his perspective, the more sophisticated content he shares, the move value he creates.

Ken had yet to recognize that the real work of leadership is the ability to clarify and simplify. He needs to consider who his audience is, and translate his expertise into an easy to understand common language. That work isn't his strength, and isn't as much fun for him to do. However, it's critical if others are to be involved in getting understanding and taking action.

With some effort and practice, Ken was able to turn this:

It's important that we syndicate the deliverable with original relevant stakeholders within the governance framework.

Into this:

We need to help the original team comply with the rules.

Not only did Ken understand what he meant, his colleagues could, too. Ken is learning that simplicity is the key to clarity. Experts don’t need to impress with their expertise; they need to illuminate.

How do you address expert's syndrome when you see it? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.