How to Nurture a Future Expert

    Author: Dan Young, CCIE, PMP and VP of Operations at StormWind

If you have the luxury of a team that is talented, driven, and hungry always for the next level, you may need to manage to lofty aspirational goals. Individuals with the innate ability to become an expert in an area often need to be managed differently. While there are no hard rules for managing to these individuals, I’ll share some personal perspectives and a few elements to consider if you are thinking about coaching these individuals towards this ambitious next level.

  • They Need Encouragement: These folks should be gently encouraged. Sure, you hear about those who are emboldened by naysayers, but that isn’t my experience. My experience is that these elite-performers doubt their own talents. They are often their toughest critics. We don’t need to pile on.
  • They Benefit from a Safety Net: Seeking the expert-level leads individuals to uncertain paths. There isn’t a fool-proof methodology for obtaining expertise. For this reason, it is important to remove fear of failure. Remove the potential downside for not reaching that distant, nearly unfathomable summit.
  • Establish a Specific and Reasonable Timetable: You really need to try to pin down a timetable. Even lofty goals need to be bounded by time for them to become more tangible and real in the psyche of the individual.
  • Expect Time for Immersion and Extreme Dedication: A few months of the timetable allocated must be immersive. I’d recommend that the immersion should begin the journey, and not be the end of the journey. During the first immersion period, an individual should be able to learn how to learn and figure out how to establish a routine that will in time lead to expertise. If this immersion period doesn’t happen, the person hasn’t truly put themselves out on the limb, exposing themselves. This also may not be the appropriate time in their life to truly dedicate themselves.
  • Applying Modest Pressure: Merely allocating time doesn’t add enough pressure. This is mostly because much of the recipe for a successful pursuit will come down to the individual managing themselves to a standard beyond what is reasonable. You need to push a bit without causing excess stress. If the individual isn’t stressed out enough, they aren’t taking it seriously enough.
  • Identifying Measurability: How are you going to measure this new level once obtained? Perhaps there is a certification? Perhaps there is a capstone project to demonstrate the expertise, or even a presentation. But almost more importantly, consider measuring after the first true time of dedication. The individual should be able to do a show and tell of what they have learned.
  • Accountability Check-Ins: Once a week, peek into the world of this individual letting them know that you care, and that you are there to coach toward their accountability on this pursuit. The effort to pursue expertise can easily be put to the side. If there is no accountability, the likelihood that this effort takes a back seat becomes so much more likely.

As a manager, I get a great deal of satisfaction seeing those on my teams pursue these lofty goals. It is also a refreshing brake from the norms of management. If you have an opportunity to do this, use it as an opportunity to build your own abilities as a mentor and a leader who can empower this aspect of a team.