Galileo had it right when he asserted that the earth is not the center of the universe. How often, though, do we professionals believe and act as though our area of expertise is the center of the universe?
I am recently reminded that a far better path than the one of the expert is the path of the master. The expert has arrived. But, a master is forever a learner on the path toward mastery.
Be be proud of your expertise, yet hold expertise with humility in order to stay on the path to mastery.
Most of the businesses I work with are privately held. Of those, many have family members working in the business. I believe they hire me because of my expertise in collaborating and empowering them to achieve well-defined goals. Last week, while attending a Purposeful Planning Institute conference my expertise bubble popped! I was reminded of the larger framework within from which both business advisors and business owners operate. This story perfectly illustrates that path from expertise toward mastery.
One presenter described a family business with a father and uncle as co-CEO owners. The president is a non-family member and a son (of one of the CEO’s) worked in one of the departments of the firm. The son had poor performance scores at work. He seemed to consistently either ship out the wrong products or fail to keep accurate track of the inventory. Because he is the owner’s son, he’s not fired immediately. Those who held the position before him were fired. However, the son’s mistakes do come under intense scrutiny as he’s put on notice.
Given this short vignette, the expert might easily project onto this scion his own assumptions about the son’s incompetence, his entitlement, the “difficulty” the family dynamic imposes on the company, and perhaps even the expert’s own jealousy at not being the heir! Let’s see how the company resolved this issue.
The president and department head ultimately uncovered the root cause of the son’s poor performance. It was not, as you might suspect, because of his incompetence or lack of skill. The Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system was so outdated that it was generating mistakes in what products should be shipped or what products were in inventory. The son was simply doing what his predecessors had done: followed the outputs provided by the shipping system!
What I learned from this story is that there are multiple levels of learning on the path to mastery.
- The company discovered the root cause of unhappy customers. If the son had not been in that department, they would likely have continued to scapegoat the employee in that position.
- The president fixed the underlying problem, in part due to the familial pressure to see the son succeed. (Experts are often brought in to “fix” the symptom of the problem person rather than to uncover and resolve the underlying problem).
- The son benefited from the two-edged sword of privilege. His mistakes were exonerated and yet he was held to the kind of standard that allowed for growth into adulthood. He was empowered to continue on his journey of individuation from the family by growing through the pain of failing, correcting his actions (and the system) and choosing to stay rather than give up and quit.
- The department benefited from having the tools it needed to improve accuracy of customer orders and keep an accurate track of inventory.
Everyone in the organization benefited from the added pressure family ownership brought to the system. This is a surprising and enlightening example of how family ownership enhanced the business system.
If you have a privately owned business you might want to consider the following questions:
- Are any family members being given special (either harsher or more lax) scrutiny than other employees in the same position?
- Are you getting hung up on personalities or getting down to root causes?
- Are you clear on which hat you wear when interacting with family members in the business—the Dad hat or the Owner hat or the President hat?