Has your confidence in your ability to effectively use your expertise and skill to deliver key results been your path to success? For many of us, our expertise has leveraged us into leadership positions. It’s opened doors and created credibility. But the same skills that got us here are not the same skills that will help us be effective in our role. Expertise alone is not sufficient to motivate and engage others to follow your vision and commit to working together.
As an expert leader, you likely have strong opinions and ideas about the best way to do things — and you may find yourself telling others what and how it needs to be done. (Obviously, many employees will view this as micro-managing.) And while you know listening is important, maybe you listen more attentively to others who share your perspective and tend to zone out to those who hold a different opinion. When things are not going smoothly you tend to jump in, carry the load, and get it done right.
Influential leaders capture our trust and engage us to commit to a shared future. They inspire us to want to work in coordination with others to uphold our promises and achieve our vision. They connect to us in conversation and listen for what we care about and are genuinely curious to understand our perspective.
They have presence.
Presence is a way of being and connecting with others that allows for both people to be who they are without hiding behind the mask of the expert. Dropping the expert mask is to show someone your vulnerability. This creates a challenge for those of us who have been successful by sharing what we know with others. We may have powerful stories about the consequences of not knowing and fear embarrassment or rejection when we share what we don’t know.
Letting go of having to know is risky business and can provoke fears of unwanted criticism from others (and ourselves). Not knowing can provoke an assessment that we don’t need to know it or it’s not important — or, it can trigger us to believe that we should know and we’d better put our head down and figure it out. We may also get caught in the experience of feeling like an imposter, that we don’t deserve to be in this position and it’s only a matter of time before somebody discovers our incompetence.
When leading from an expert mindset our focal points are:
- What we know
- How we perform
- What will happen to us if we don’t know
The light is shining on us rather than towards others. An expert mindset will drive us to go it alone until we have things figured out and exclude our colleagues, teams and families along the way. We narrow our focus and draw inward rather than extend outward, limiting our ability to fully engage with others.
To shift away from an expert leader mindset we need to practice and place our attention outwards by focusing on our conversations with others.
Here are four leadership conversation practices to enhance your leadership presence:
- Set your intention to listen, learn and explore. Resist the urge to talk first, tell what you think or take control of the conversation. Be committed to this moment, this conversation and resist jumping in and resetting the agenda from a need to show what you know. Instead create space for the other person to open the conversation and offer their perspective and ideas.
- Listen to understand what they care about. Ask questions and be curious to begin to understand their perspective. Listen to what they are saying, not saying. Notice what their emotions, mood and body language are revealing.
- Quiet your inner expert. Resist the urge to jump in and share what you know or to disregard what they are saying as not important. These thoughts drive us into our head and away from connecting. Leadership is about connection. Presence comes from the shared learning space, openness to being vulnerable and to be curious to what we don’t know.
- Notice what is being revealed in you as you are listening. What assumptions or pre-judgments do you hold about the person and what they have to say?. Pay attention to your own mood and emotions that are provoked during the conversation.
Leadership presence is powerful and requires us to practice being vulnerable to share what we don’t know rather than have all the answers. And when we do, we create powerful connections, engage and inspire others to take meaningful action.