I was recently working with a coaching client who had some wonderful goals laid out in her development plan. They were goals that she had put time, research and energy in. They were also goals that were pushing her to places of discomfort that she knew she would grow from.

She had started working on these goals after our previous coaching session, but something changed as we started the next session. She shared with me that she had talked about her goals with a leader, and the leader gave her feedback that she wanted to use and alter her goals. As I listened, she shared that this leader told her she could easily skip pieces of her plan, use an easy trick and move to the next section. She was excited to hear this advice, but she was discussing skipping foundational pieces for her that she had learned were important in her research. She said that since this person was a seasoned leader, his or her opinion must be right.

I asked her, “Did you find this easy trick in your research?”

She thought for a minute and said, “No! I suppose I should follow the expertise of my research, versus the opinion of one person.”

This story is all too common in development, and it is important to ensure that as people work toward goals, they realize that there is a difference between expertise and opinion. Keep in mind the words of President John F. Kennedy: “Too often, we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

Experience Doesn’t Always Mean Expertise

I recently facilitated a learning session centered around trust. Leaders were working on growth plans around team engagement and building trust into their leadership process. As we discussed ways to build trust, an experienced leader said that venting was a great way to build trust. He said that he allowed people to come into his office and vent about frustrations with team members. He said it helped build trust between him and his team. I asked where he learned this approach. He pointedly said, “Well … it’s my opinion from my many years as a leader.”

I shared with him I hadn’t seen this method validated and that research has shown that venting about other team members actually creates false trust. While he may have felt that his people trusted him, it was probably hurting overall trust on the team. Less than three months later, the leader was working with human resources, because his team’s culture had buckled. The root cause was — you guessed it! — a lack of trust. People weren’t communicating with each other in open, honest ways, and they didn’t know how to do so, because their leader was giving them an out.

The human resources professional started with foundational pieces rooted in research and expertise to help the leader start building his team’s trust. He realized that he was going to have to put some focused work into becoming a more trusting communicator on his way to bringing a greater level of accountability to his team. He also realized he needed to improve his skills in order to coach his team members on having brave and, sometimes, tough conversations with their fellow team members.

A Calculated Expertise Formula Doesn’t Always Mean Success

For years, I’ve coached people on a concept called rounding with employees. It focuses on having daily, purposeful, meaningful conversations that focus on people and connect to business. It goes far beyond asking people how their day is going. The approach has been successful for many leaders and a failure for many others.

When sharing the concept of rounding, there are some key examples I use in a process that some would call scripting. I challenge people by saying that it isn’t scripting but guiding. I use the word “guiding” because each leader must put the time, effort and energy into developing their communication skills and building connections to their employees for it to be successful. The people who, day after day and week after week, just read questions from a piece of paper are not successful with a process that experts say will work. The leaders who adapt the questions for each unique person on their team, who have a genuine care for the person in front of them and the answer to the question they are asking, have great success. They realize that the calculated expertise formula only works when they genuinely care about why they are doing it and who they are doing it for.

Opinions can be interesting. Expertise can be helpful but may not always be right for us. In the end, development is unique to each person. There are tools that can help us, and it is important to validate those tools for ourselves to see how they work for us. Sometimes, a new process may come easily, but true growth usually takes time and pushes us past places of comfort. True coaching isn’t about telling people how to or where to go but, instead, asking questions that make them think as they decide the “how” or “where” of the next steps of their growth journey.

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