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Are you a leader, suffering from Expert Syndrome?

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Many of the leaders I have worked with over the years spent much of their careers becoming an expert. They may have trained to be a finance specialist, a lawyer, a scientist, an engineer or an IT specialist, and as a result they became valued for their knowledge and expertise.

However, when the time came and they were promoted to a leadership position, all of a sudden they felt unsure of themselves. They didn’t feel they were experts in leadership and, not being the expert, their situation was suddenly daunting new territory. It took them out of their comfort zone.

Sound familiar? I know I felt like this when I was developing as a leader, and it’s not a great place to be!

Let me introduce you to Emma. Emma is a finance expert who has recently been promoted to Finance Director. She has always prided herself on giving others the right answer to their questions and knowing the best way to do everything related to finances. 

It’s the morning of the management team meeting and Emma looks tired, bedraggled and anxious. The meeting starts at 9am and she’s spent all of last night racking her brains to think of answers to every possible question she might be asked. Deep down she’s dreading a question that she hasn’t thought of and fearful that she might be floored by it.

Meanwhile, her finance team is watching and wondering why she doesn’t trust them to do more and why she doesn’t ask them to help her prepare for meetings. They feel frustrated that she isn’t helping them to develop personally and that she has no time to help develop the team strategy for the coming year.

Have you ever felt like that? Then you’re stuck in the Expert Syndrome. 

What are the symptoms of the Expert Syndrome? I suggest they are:

  • Identifying yourself as an expert in your field rather than a leader
  • Being motivated by achieving goals through your own efforts
  • Being valued for advising others, having the right answers and fixing problems for others
  • Being involved in the day-to-day detail and focused on the task 
  • Working long hours through wanting to do everything yourself rather than delegating to others
  • Black and white, right and wrong, win-lose thinking
  • Feeling that nobody else can do the work as well as you or the right way (which is your way)
  • Not having time for anything outside of work
  • Not having time to stand back and think strategically at work
  • Not spending time on building relationships 
  • Not focusing on how you do things and your impact on others
  • Not creating the time to grow beyond your expertise 
  • Wanting to maintain the status quo and stay in your comfort zone

Part of having the Expert Syndrome is that you believe that IQ is key. In reality while IQ is a prerequisite for a leader, it is emotional intelligence (EQ) that makes the difference between success and failure. And that will be the subject of my second blog…

Sue Coyne


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