We pastors know this stuff. We have literally “gone to school” on the scriptures, theology and church history. We preach and teach at least once a week (usually more) and the necessity of that task keeps sending us back to study up on these topics. Even more, if the competition included a ‘demonstration’ section on things like “Speaking in Front of Crowds”…we’d run up the score. Compared to most people in most every other job, we pastors are just really proficient at stepping up in front of crowds and opening our mouths. (Indeed, most people report fearing public speaking more than death--which means that at a funeral more people would rather be the guy in the box than the guy at the microphone…)
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he states that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become an ‘expert’ or ‘master’ at anything. Recently I calculated that I have passed the 10,000 hour mark in only one thing in my life: Talking about the Bible. Which means that most pastors, like me, are really the resident expert in this stuff. If leadership, even church leadership, was a game of “technical skill” and “technical knowledge”, about “Public Speaking” and biblical theology, we’d win every time.
But it’s not.
As we looked at in my last post in this series, the problem in most organizational life is not ‘technical’ but ‘adaptive.’ It’s not a problem that can be solved by an expert, it is a challenge that can only be solved by the community learning, growing, changing and ‘adapting’ to the changing environment around it.
This is the second post in a series on the To Do List for Leaders of the Future. In the last post, I gave #1 on the list: Say clearly, confidently and boldly: “I don’t know.”
Step #2 is even more pointed:
When an organization is facing an uncertain future in a changing world where there really are no clear answers, (which is clearly the situation today in everything from Government to Girls Scouts) the Resident Experts only make the problem worse.
BECAUSE Resident Experts are so technically proficient, we are asked to give our “expert opinion” on everything. This is worsen the problem in at least four ways.
- Experts in one area (say “Biblical Preaching”) are often assumed to be experts in every area. (Ever notice how movie stars become experts in global crises during election years.) This is usually a complete false-hood. Very few people have the depth and breadth of experience to truly be an expert in more than one area (See the “10,000 hour rule” above.) I am often asked as a pastor to give expert opinion on matters having to do with building construction, labor law, economic forecasting and city planning (topics they did NOT have in seminary). When I do, I usually make the situation worse not better.
- Experts tend to apply the solutions of yesterday (indeed, that is how we became Experts, is it not? The solutions we offered in the past worked), to the problems of today and the challenges of tomorrow. Experts, as we learned from Eric Hoffer, “are beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists.” When a community that is facing an “adaptive challenge” uses a “technical solution” (which is the definition of the “solutions of yesterday”) then not only is the challenge not met, but the new solution often becomes the problem.
- When a community defaults to an expert, it is avoiding the necessary work that the whole community needs to do. People stop listening to each other; the community ceases to look for and listen for the often hidden but deeply entrenched competing values that are usually at the heart of the problem. By defaulting to the Resident Expert, the community itself stops its own growth and the painful irony is that this is usually a precursor to its own slow death.
- Most problematic is that cultivating the Expectation of Expertise is a big trap for the leader. A big-- often dangerous—trap for the leader. As soon as leaders become the expert in the face of an “adaptive challenge”, they become the problem. (See #1 above). The Expert becomes the Savior and when their expert advice doesn’t achieve instant results, they all-too-soon become the scapegoat. Indeed, perhaps the surest way to be an ex-leader begins with being an expert.
So since Leadership isn’t “Trivial Pursuit” and the problems in front of us and looming on the horizon cannot be met by our being the Resident Expert, we than are free to resign as the Resident Expert and instead become the Chief Learning Officer.
When you are leading a community facing an adaptive challenge, lead the learning. Lead the process of corporate self-understanding and identifying the competing values that are keeping the community unable to address the challenge of the future. Lead the process of identifying the core values that “should never change” and those lesser values that absolutely have to change. Lead the process of helping the community face the brutal facts of the reality of the challenge in front of them.As Chief Learning Officer, your job is to be in two places at once all the time. In the words of Ronald Heifetz, "Looking from the balcony and listening on the floor."
- Looking for systemic patterns and processes that get played out over and over again.
- Listening to the stories that are told, the heroes that are celebrated, the issues that bring energy to the room and those that make eyes glaze over.
- Looking for alliances that are being built and people that are being drawn to the conversation (both positively and negatively).
- Listening for the comments that make people jab their fingers in the air and bang the table as they talk.
- Looking for the default behaviors that keep the community from considering new options (“If all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail.”)
- Listening for the ways people are avoiding the real issue they CAN address by focusing on those they can’t. (Like the comments I often hear in my Presbyterian church circles: “Our church can never be healthy and faithful until our denomination is fixed.”)
The Leader of the Future is not the expert who does all the talking, but the one who is constantly looking, listening and leading the learning--which includes a relational component that may be the single the most important thing for Leaders of the Future "to-do" that is Step #3 (And is Step #3 for the next post in this series.)