Expert Role or Learning Leader?

Our conventional culture continually conspires to put us in the expert role. Individually we often aspire to be in the expert role. When we accept the role we often pay a price.

My son gave a talk to an academic audience.  It was the typical grueling, academic conversation in which every point was challenged.  Yet I noted that Ryan did something unusual.  At the outset, someone raised a question, Ryan authentically pointed out how and why it was an important question and then he gave a very thoughtful answer.  The first time he did this, the climate in the room changed.  The behavior signaled that the event would be an event of real communication and learning.   Many questions followed.  He handled them in the same fashion. The session turned into a mutual, generative exploration of the topic.

I was struck by Ryan’s sense of security and his desire to learn. Both were shaping the experience.  Our conventional culture continually conspires to put us in the expert role. Individually we often aspire to be in the expert role. When we accept the role we often pay a price. I was reminded that when we are trying to impress, feedback is threatening. When we are trying to learn feedback is not only welcome, it becomes the very objective. Ryan said that learning is often blocked by the common assumption that a speaker must be the expert who knows all the answers. Under the assumptions of expertise and authority challenge tends to lead to conflict.

Ryan told of a student who had just read a book about war.  He said the decision to go to war is usually made by a small group and almost always they argue, “There is no other way.”  Ryan shared an example about his little girl throwing a tantrum. It is easy as a parent to think that it is your job is to be the authority figure who correctly directs the situation. Ryan says he has now trained himself to pause and look for other paths. Often he joins his daughter in a mutual exploration of what she really wants and how she can best get it. He believes that this leads to more positive outcomes.

Choosing to leave the expert role usually means becoming genuinely open to others.   When we let go of assumed authority and control, we can open the door to accelerated learning. We create an environment in which growth is possible and people can thrive.

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