Experts are seemingly everywhere and often dominate important discussions with their facts and opinions. When debating the merits of a plan, subject matter experts can trump the views of leaders and quickly derail tactical plans and strategy. Bumping up against experts and expertise is never comfortable for leaders — especially when the leader feels strongly about a course of action. When experts offer a competing view, the temptation for many leaders is to tackle it head-on, to prove to others that expertise has its limits and that no one expert has cornered the market on truth and reality.
However, challenging expertise is a recipe for rejection and the best leaders avoid it. When leaders confront the facts and opinions of experts, they invariably sound like teachers instructing a classroom of novices. Telling others why their facts don’t align with the reality of a situation makes leaders appear defensive, close-minded, and autocratic.
The next time you disagree with an expert, simply invite them into the conversation and watch what happens. Asking experts to opine on how their facts and opinions apply to a situation will ultimately display for everyone the limits of expertise.
Instead of disagreeing with or challenging those facts, the best leaders draw expertise into the discussion through questions and inquiry. The more questions that get asked, the fewer answers experts give. Once the disclaimers begin to preface many of the expert opinions, the leader has won the battle of expertise.
By inviting expertise into the conversation, the limits of the expertise become obvious to everyone (except the experts, of course). This gives the leader an opening to redirect the discussion toward the best conclusion, one supported but not driven by the so-called facts. Inviting expertise into the conversation works to nullify the false power experts like to yield. In contrast, challenging expertise fuels a brush fire leaders can’t control. Tell me again why that fact is so important?