Skilled Expert: Going DEEP
Like most of us, you probably began your working career in some field — e.g. law, accounting, financial planning, etc. and developed a professional reputation and regard for ‘knowing your stuff’. Expertise in your primary field is a foundation . . . on which to build your professional reputation and regard. But it’s not enough if you aspire to build a long-term, trusted advisor relationship with your clients.
Valued Advisor: Going WIDE
Building on the foundation of being really, really good at what you do — i.e. ‘solving problems for your clients’ — you’ll next want to gain knowledge that is not directly applicable to the field of your primary expertise.
The primary value — to you — of gaining an education about topics outside of your primary expertise is so that you can see things from an entirely different perspective — unlike a skilled expert who ‘knows it all’ . . . and not much else.
An Example: “Learning To Fly”
Some years ago I had the privilege of learning how to fly. Fortunately, I also had the aptitude to do so effectively. While not critical to my later work as an advisor to salespeople and managers in the financial services industry, my pilot training proved to be an ‘edge’ that other ‘equally skilled’ experts did not enjoy.
At one point, an agency manager I was working with asked me, “How will I know that my training of a producer on some skill was adequate?” What he really wanted to know was, “When can I ‘stop worrying’ about my producer and ‘assume’ she’s developed the competency I’ve been training her to have?”.
It was a good question. Fairly common, too. Because of my earlier flight training, I recalled — and shared — what I learned on the day I ‘soloed’ my training aircraft.
It was a cold January day in New England. Snow squalls were coming in from the west. Grey, overcast day. The kind you like to think about while you’re on a Caribbean cruise!
“Today’s your lucky day, Bill!”
My flight instructor had me doing the usual take-offs and landings (known as ‘touch-and-go’) in the airport’s landing pattern. Nothing too eventful. I felt I was doing OK. “Make the next landing a ‘Full Stop’ . . .” I wasn’t sure why. I soon found out, though!
We taxied back to the hangar area. My instructor opened the door and said, “Bill . . . you’re ready . . . do three take-offs and make a ‘full stop’ after each. Taxi back to the active (runway) and do it again. I’ll be watching you from the hangar . . . don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Now GO!” With that, he got out of the aircraft and walked off toward the hangar area. I was not expecting that! But I felt excited at the thought that today I would fly the aircraft all by myself. Woo hoo!
The three take-offs and landings were (with one exception) ‘uneventful’ and (obviously) successful. After my third landing I taxied back to the hangar area. I got out of the aircraft and asked my instructor, “How did you know TODAY . . . was THE day to let me ‘go solo’?”
He told me, “Well, I sit in the right seat and I observe you. I want to see if you’re able to hold a steady heading and altitude. If you do, that’s evidence of your SKILL. If you stop holding either one, I want to see if you notice. If you do, that’s evidence of your AWARENESS. Finally, I watch to see if you correct the situation by using the controls and power to restore your heading and altitude. If you do, that’s evidence of your MASTERY. Once I know that you can:
1. make the aircraft do what it’s supposed to be doing,
2. spot it when it’s not, and
3. correct in a timely manner . . .
you really don’t need me to sit in the ‘right seat’ and today . . . you demonstrated all three factors so . . . I got out of your way of becoming the pilot I know you’re going to be”.
Wow! That was brilliant. I shared both that story as well as the lesson it taught me . . . with my agency client. Technically speaking, learning to fly had ‘nothing’ to do with getting his producer to generate more revenues for the practice.
But it had a lot to do with helping my client become more effective as an agency manager whose success reflected the quality of skills his producers were learning from him –– just as my own piloting skills reflected my talented and caring flight instructor from many years before.
Go deep AND wide. Deep = expertise in your primary field. Wide = broadening experiences in other (often unrelated!) fields. You’ll be more of a Valued Advisor and . . . more difficult to replace!