How much is your expertise getting in the way?

When we think about expertise, we typically (at least I do) think about all the positive ways expertise can be beneficial.  

Rarely do we think about the ways that expertise can get in the way.  However, the reality is that expertise can have a downside.  Left unchecked, someone acting in an area of expertise can actually become the limit (or roadblock) of what's possible for the rest of the team.  So, while the person acting with expertise may perceive that he or she is doing well, in reality, the team may be suffering, and as a result, the entire organization.

At our last brown bag we explored the ramifications when expertise ceases to be helpful.  It was a lively discussion and we generated lots of ideas about how to steward expertise in a way that moves everyone forward.

To begin, we had some group discussion to consider situations we've encountered and the impact made by those who (often unwittingly) exhibit strong areas of expertise:

Situation Impact
Using skill that got them promoted Don’t develop leadership or trust/develop team
Assume I know what they need / what’s the best Stifle creativity / Give irrelevant info / not open to other’s ideas / can’t incorporate
Relied on as subject matter expert often Too quick to “solve” rather than listen
Subject matter expert No new approaches or innovation
“Leader” knows all, arrogant, “tells" teamwork Workers frustrated, productivity falls
Expertise comfortable Gets in the way of learning something new

While it's all well and good to be able to identify when someone else's expertise is getting in the way, the ultimate idea is to be able to identify how and when you may have expertise getting in the way so that you can adjust.  To give us some guidance, we again broke into groups and developed some markers to clue us in to whether or not expertise may be getting in the way.  Here are some clues to look for if expertise is being used well:


  • Growth in other people
  • Can take vacation
  • People being excited
  • Meeting realistic expectations (everyone can)
  • Flow
  • Sharing Knowledge
  • Learn from others
  • People being creative
  • Good level of stress (Eustress)
  • Employees feel valued

Here are some markers to look for that should clue you in to the potential that expertise is getting in the way:

Not Optimal

  • Bottleneck
  • To-Do list is very long
  • Downplays crosstraining
  • Closed door conversations
  • “I’m too busy"
  • 15 hour days
  • People around expert “tune out"
  • Waiting for decisions
  • “It’s not good enough"
  • Knowledge hoarding

So, is your expertise getting in the way? If you find that it is, consider approaching your team to get input from them on ways you can keep your expertise in check.  We often find that team members have ideas of ways to help, but they don't feel the permission to approach the leader.  

Josh leverages creativity, innovation, and collaboration in organizations working strategically for the betterment of humanity.

Josh leverages creativity, innovation, and collaboration in organizations working strategically for the betterment of humanity.

To be clear, we believe that expertise is a wonderful thing.  However, like all strengths, when the strength becomes overdone, it can become a weakness.  The idea is to find the goldilocks sweetspot for your expertise so that you are not limiting the engagement of the rest of the team and they thrive!