Leadership And Being An An Expert
When I was an aspiring student at Georgetown Law, I strived to become an expert in as many areas of law as I could. That included my first-year subjects: Contracts, Torts, Civil Procedure, Property, and Criminal Law and Procedure. If I could just achieve expert status, I would ace all my exams. This paradigm carried through my three years at Georgetown.
When I started my career in criminal justice after graduation, again my goal was to become an expert. I wanted to master the nuances of crime prevention, victim assistance, and law enforcement policy. At one point, I testified before Congress on a crime bill and thought, “OK – now I am really an expert.”
When I took a brief detour into the practice of transportation law, I was aiming to be an expert in laws and regulations that applied to buses, trucks and trains. This was in the glory days of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), when everything was regulated. I just had to learn all there was to know so clients could consider me an expert on whom they could rely.
Finally, when I commenced my 35-year career in continuing legal education, I strived to grow into an expert on the rules and regulations, the best speakers, the ideal manner in which to plan and execute a program, and the proven techniques for best evaluating speakers, programs and publications.
By the time I was elected Chair of the Section on Continuing Legal Education for the Association of American Law Schools and President of the Association of Continuing Legal Education, I thought I had achieved my goal of becoming an expert. I had reached the top rung of the ladder – I had gained prestige, notoriety, knowledge, skills and appreciation.
But by that time I started to realize that my ladder had been leaning against the wrong wall.
With maturity had come wisdom. I realized that becoming an expert at any subject, which I considered the ultimate goal when I was younger and less wise, was an inappropriate final objective.
Because when we consider ourselves experts in any particular subject, we unconsciously believe it is acceptable to stop learning.
Our curiosity lessens.
Our drive stalls.
Our wonder ceases.
We end up lauding our supposed destination and stop enjoying our journey.
As a student in the Georgetown University Leadership Coaching Program, I was exposed to this quote by Suzuki Roshi:
“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s, there are few.”
As a leader, please don’t consider yourself an expert. Consider yourself a student. As a student, you can continue down your learning path, not focusing on your destination, but on your learning adventure itself.
And along the way, remember to share your learnings with your teammates, friends, colleagues and family. That sharing can be a beautiful part of your journey.
And you can teach these people that becoming an expert may not be their best ultimate goal.