We talk a lot about leadership at the LeadLocal Adobe. Maybe because it’s part of our business name, or because we facilitate leadership programs, or because we just aren’t satisfied with the state of leadership in our country…

Ultimately, I think it’s because we’ve seen what a difference leadership can make when people have the support and tools they need to grow and improve their corner of the world.

But when it comes to thinking about my own leadership, I cringe. Somewhere along the way I started to intertwine expertise with leadership.

When Carly and I were in Austin earlier this month for SXSWedu, thought leaders were gracing stages in big auditoriums and sitting at the end of long book signing queues. Answers? They had them. Questions unanswered? Not many. Driving out of Austin I found myself with far more questions than answers.

Is expertise a critical component of leadership? What if I don’t see myself as an expert?

Many of the leaders who pop into our minds are garnished in expertise: Warren Buffett, Howard Schultz, Condoleeza Rice, Bill Gates. These people really seem to know what they are doing. And thanks to Malcolm Gladwell, I am guessing most of these folks have hit their 10,000 hours to be deemed world-class experts in something.

So is it 10,000 hours, publications, conference panel invitations, or running multi-billion dollar corporations that make you both an expert and a leader? If that’s the case, I have a big hill to climb and a few glass ceilings to shatter.

Pass the Monkey
expertise versus leadership
When it comes to expertise, we all feel like imposters. It’s okay to be vulnerable & share our mistakes.

Thankfully a recent clip from Dan Pink’s Pinkcast provided a bit of relief and insight. In the Pinkcast, former Google Executive, Kim Scott, shared her snackable strategy of “Whoops the Monkey.”[1] Fostering a culture of feedback and learning, Scott started to bring a stuffed monkey to her team meetings and asked people to stand up and share a mistake they made in the past week. Those brave enough to stand and tell a story would be given instant and automatic forgiveness. The person with the best story (measured by loudness of applause) would win the “Whoops” monkey for the week. Scott found this to be a recipe for vulnerability and risk-taking that is essential for growth.

When a person (especially someone in a position of power) can laugh at her own mistake with a touch of self-criticism, the world can only become a better place from the shared learnings. Scott’s not alone in her thinking. Although Carol Dweck doesn’t reference a monkey in her theories, the leading researcher behind growth mindset does highlight the importance of being honest about the learning process, acknowledging challenges and mistakes, and doing something about them.[2] Dweck shares that “the path to a growth mindset is a journey, not a proclamation.”

Now, I’m no expert, but I can say with confidence that this also seems to be the case with leadership. Leadership is a journey, or better yet a practice, and as with any practice – there is always room for improvement.

[1] Scott, K. (2017, January 4). My 2016 Whoops the Monkey. Retrieved March 29, 2017, from https://www.radicalcandor.com/blog/2016-whoops-monkey/

[2] Dweck, C. (2015, September 22). Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’ Retrieved March 29, 2017, from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html

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