By Penny Locaso
Why Leaders Must Transform From Being an Expert to an Experimenter
For 16 years I had been paid in my career to have the answers to be an ‘expert’. I was a professional on the rise, and it was my job to have the answers. I, then at the age of 40, became an entrepreneur and realised this was exactly what was holding me back.
Why? Because when we assume the position of the ‘expert’, it can change how we look at a problem; it limits our ability to be open to challenging our belief system (which is often formed off a sample size of one), to unlearning.
We assume that what we’ve done before will work when applied to new problems, but how can you know what the best approach is to a challenge you’ve never tackled before?
Let’s face it, COVID life has reset our foundations, the way we work and live has changed, and how we navigate this new paradigm as leaders needs to change to.
The pressure is on: innovate (and daily), prioritise your physical and mental wellbeing, make sure your people feel connected (in a remote workforce) and maintain productivity…and you’re an expert remember, so work it out.
It’s time to press pause and realise that the language we use will determine our ability to make changes. The word expert in a complex, uncertain and unprecedented environment no longer serves the job at hand.
It’s time to let go and embrace the possibility that lies in being an Experimenter. The reality is we learn by doing, by leaning into the uncomfortable, the unfamiliar, messing up, dusting ourselves off, reflecting and intentionally adapting.
Relabelling ourselves experimenters gives us permission to try a fundamentally new path, to test a hypothesis, to reframe our internal narrative to one that doesn’t fear failure but embraces learning and often unlearning.
Experimentation allows us to look at the world through a different lens to ask the question what if and explore the uncomfortable together. So where might one begin to make this mindset shift and enable their people to do the same?
Connect with unlike minds
When I left the corporate world, I thought I’ve got great networks I will be fine as I lean into the entrepreneurial world. I soon realised that my networks were predominantly people like me and often in the same or similar industries (research shows that we are very good at creating connections with people like us).
The most powerful thing I could do was experiment with creating a fundamentally different kind of network, a network of people who worked in industries unrelated to mine, people who didn’t agree with my ideas, who saw the world in a different light.
That’s exactly what I did and it changed how I looked at the problems I was solving and the approach I had the courage to take. I call these people unlike minds and surrounding yourself with more of them will have you surprising yourself often.
Practice micro bravery
To truly own the experimenter title, we need to amplify our resilience and resilience is born out of leaning into fear. Experience tells me that the practice of micro bravery is one of the best ways to build it.
Micro bravery is doing small things each day that make you feel uncomfortable. It can be as simple as having a difficult conversation, signing up for an online class to learn something you know nothing about or sharing something that makes you feel a little vulnerable with someone else.
Small acts of bravery practised over time build the courage and confidence to lean into bigger acts of bravery enabling you to unlock your experimenter potential and navigate adversity in ways you never imagined possible.
Experiment as a team
As a leader, you have a unique opportunity to not only embrace the experimenter but to empower your people to do the same. A vulnerable leader is a connected and respected leader.
Exposing this idea of shifting from expert to experimenter to your team is a way to create a safe space but not a comfortable one. This act sets the tone for where you’d like to take them, provides the opportunity for them to share ideas on how as a team you can collectively practice experimentation and support each other in the process.
Inject experimentation into the start of your regular team connects and provide the platform for people to share their experiments, what they learnt and what they would do differently next time.
When the rulebook of life has changed and the need to intentionally adapt is critical to surviving, the expert may very well find himself inheriting a future that the experimenter has created. Now is your time to choose which role you’d like to lead into.
Read: Three Tips for Cultivating Team Creativity