The Role of the Leader when Experts Talk

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When leading a high performance, highly skilled team, a leader may find themselves in a situation where their ability to input on the subject being discussed is limited.

It’s also possible that a leader may wish to get some distance from the discussion in order to empower it’s participants and allow them to reach consensus without resorting to the leader’s approval.

Whether the case, the leader doesn’t have to give input on the matter per se in order to help the team achieve a consensus.

Creative Deviation

Given a complicated situation, when all experts gather in a conference room, the leader tells them the problem, shut up, relax and watch the magic happen.

This is usually a good first step, as your team is usually fitter and more contextualized than you will ever be.

Still, such is the nature of the highly technical that they tend to deviate from the original subject, mentally exploring different hypothetical scenarios and considering their implications, or often getting caught on their own views and unconsciously blocking the words of others.

People also tend to sometimes focus on optimizing small details to near perfection, spending too much time on a discussion that will contribute little to the big picture. There’s even an term for this, bikeshedding or the Law of Triviality.

While hypothetical discussions are important and should be encouraged, it’s even more important to keep in mind the true reason for that conversation to be happening: a problem must be solved.

The Importance of Structure

In such cases, a leader biggest contribution, as usual, lies in providing mediation and structure to conversations that tend to get chaotic.

The leader should act to ensure that the conversation remains focused on the correct matter, leading the team through the process of collecting input and organizing often conflicting ideas, measuring their pros and cons, while also giving every team member a chance to be heard, with minimal interruptions so they are able to fully develop their line of thought.

Also, when you’re not sure what to say, take a deep breath and add a dramatic pause. This will give you time to think, and someone else may even chime in.

In conclusion, trust your experts fully, and help them express themselves by using the soft skills inherent to your role.