Ep 102: Why Selling Expertise Won’t Work

Most leaders and coaches are selling expertise, and frankly speaking, that doesn’t give their clients the ability to become leaders themselves. What a coach typically does is to give someone a path that they can follow and if they can’t, then they must not have been leadership material in the first place. This is where selling expertise falls short. It doesn’t give someone the ability to discover their own truth – the unique leadership potential that lurks within them. It only teaches leadership to those who look like the leader who’s teaching them. Why does this matter? It’s simply because our job as leaders is to create more leaders, not superficial mirrors of our abilities. Listen to this episode as Adam Quiney tells us what we can do to really be of service to others as leaders and coaches.

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Why Selling Expertise Won’t Work

We are in week 6 billion and one of COVID-quarantine-lockdown-do-whatever-you-like. I wonder if podcasts are on the up or the down? I often listen to podcasts when I’m working out of the gym. I wonder if there’s an increase in podcast listening or a decrease. I tend to listen to my podcast when I’m driving, biking, walking somewhere, or when I’m working out. I’ve noticed that there’s less of all of that. I’m curious if you’re hearing more of my voice or less, hopefully, more. We’re not here to talk about that. Let’s get to the point.

What we’re talking about is why selling expertise does not work, especially in the coaching and leadership profession. We might be able to broaden this out further but I want to keep it here, in the context of coaching and leadership because that’s what this podcast is about. We’ll talk about why providing your expertise as a coach and leader simply won’t work. We’ll distinguish what I mean when I’m talking about providing your expertise and make that separate from training someone and talk about how providing expertise gets in the way of developing leadership. It is a hindrance and we’ll talk a little bit about what to do with it.

First up, we need to distinguish providing expertise from developing leadership. There will be times in your job when what is required from you as a leader is to provide training or deliver some expertise. We’re holding this, at least for the purpose of this conversation, as something separate from selling your expertise. To give you an example, as a leader, you may have come up through the ranks and been an exquisite senior architect and now you’re leading architects and someone is like, “I’m struggling here. Can you show me how to do this or help me put this together?” There’s a moment when your lead, your direct may benefit from you sitting down with them, taking them through the steps, giving them access to your expertise, training them in that. Once in a while, that is important. Sometimes it’s important frequently.

What I say is important to distinguish there is that it is often not the being of a leader. That is not the delivery of leadership in those moments. That is the delivery of training. Delivering training is different from developing someone’s leadership. We want to keep those two separate. I’m not saying there’s not a time when expertise is not important. What we’re doing here is creating a distinction so you can set that over there and be like, “Got it.” It’s like what we did with leadership and management. I can’t remember which podcast episode that was. It’s not that management is never something to do and it’s not that leaders don’t manage. We want to distinguish that so we’re clear on what we’re providing and that we can be clear with it for ourselves and be clear with the people we’re working with.

I want to be clear. I’m putting on my training hat. I’m not developing your leadership. I’m going to give you some training. Let’s talk about this a bit from the coaching perspective and how this shows up in the coaching world, the coaching profession. What most coaches in the world are trying to do is sell their expertise. They’re trying to do exactly the thing that this podcast is saying why it won’t work. Selling your expertise can earn you income and it can get you clients. The problem is that it tends to have a short half-life and it tends to lead to boredom on the part of both the client and the coach.

Let go of needing to know. Be willing to lean over the edge and free fall so you can learn how to fly on your way down. Share on X

Let’s take a step back. Some of the ways this might look are, “I don’t know how to create clients. Can you teach me the ways to do that? I have this problem. I want to learn how to market myself. I’m going to hire this coach and the coach is going to teach you how to market yourself.” They’re teaching the expertise. The reason that this doesn’t tend to work is that most of the time when we’re looking for expertise, what we’re trying to deal with is a fear of failing, doing it wrong, looking stupid. It’s an understandable resistance to showing up and leading in our lives, which is to say, leaning into the unknown, where we don’t know the answer, we don’t know the path forward, and being willing to make big mistakes as we forge forward.

Getting the answers, getting expertise as a way to not have to confront that is our human nature. We’re naturally risk-averse. We would prefer to avoid making the mistake than lean in to get that pot of gold on the other side of the mistake. It’s our tendency, we pull out. What tends to happen is that the people trying to sell their expertise are playing the same game as the client from the other direction. What this means is that you’ve got coaches that have spent their lives amassing expertise for the same reason that the client is seeking expertise themselves, “If only I could figure out the right way to market.” They’ve gone to all these experts, they figured it all out, and now they have amassed all the expertise. Now they’ve decided that they’ve got enough expertise and they’re going to turn around and be the purveyor of that expertise.

The thing is that if the actual problem is that you’re afraid to make a mistake and look like a dork hat, no amount of expertise will ever be enough. Sooner or later, you have to jump off that diving board. It simply will not be safe, no matter how much expertise you’ve amassed. If it is safe, if you did manage to get enough information, then you’re not in the unknown. You’re not taking on something that has the capacity to transform you. You’re not leaping into possibility. What happens is we tend to get clients that work with these coaches for a while. Their lives still won’t move forward. The reason their lives aren’t moving forward is because the coach is giving them expertise rather than standing for the client to take the scary leap.

The client will thank the coach and the coaching. Their life hasn’t moved forward. They have all this information. They’ll end the coaching with high praise for the coach insisting and genuinely believing that they got some good things from it, which they did, but they’ve never attained the breakthrough. They would change everything in their lives. They’ve never attained the breakthrough that would mean they almost never again have to worry about amassing more expertise because they’ve shifted the way they’re being about the unknown. That’s a transformative breakthrough. That would be vastly different from, “It’s scary. I don’t know what to do. I’m going to figure out the right answer.” To be clear, this was my pattern for the first 30-some-odd years of my life. If I don’t know, I either prove that I know better than everyone else, drag you down so you know less than me, or stand in, “I don’t know,” and amass expertise until I do know.

GL 102 | Selling Expertise

Selling Expertise: If the real problem is that you’re afraid to make a mistake and look like a dork, then no amount of expertise will ever be enough to transform you.


A funny thing that brilliant people get caught in is they’re like, “I seem to always need to know it all. I’m going to create a breakthrough. I’m going to hang out and not knowing. I’m going to admit that I don’t know.” That’s not a breakthrough. That’s going to the other side of the same box that they’re put in. The confines of that box are, if you know the answer then you can forge forward confidently and if you don’t know the answer, you must wait until you do know the answer. Even though it occurs to them like they’re creating something new, they’re letting go of not knowing, they’re still stuck in the same box. “I don’t know the answer. I’ll climb up. I won’t venture for it. I’ll wait until I do know and then we’re back on track.” What a breakthrough. It’s the same thing. The real breakthrough in this place would be letting go of needing to know, being willing to lean out over the edge and tumble, to freefall, and in doing so, to learn how to fly on your way down. If you’re willing to take that risk, it is a risk. You put yourself at falling and looking stupid at creating some catastrophe. That’s the only way to create transformation. We have to put ourselves at risk.

We’ve been talking about coaching. The same is true for many leaders. Leaders are trying to provide their direct reports with enough expertise that the direct reports either do things the way the leader does or overcomes whatever the issue is in their way. If I can provide you enough expertise, then maybe you’ll step forward and do that thing that I want you to do. Leaders like this will provide the expertise they believe is necessary. The dynamic that will happen is that people who like the leader are willing to do the thing once they’ve got the training will advance forward. These are people for which amassing more expertise and then taking action is not going to be a breakthrough. They’re already reliable to do that. They’re seeking more expertise and that’s what the leader is going to provide them because that’s what the leader has created as their solution to all their problems. Anyone else that has a different thing in their way will stay stuck.

That leader will move them along, move them out, bypass them or label them as not leadership material. The leader will believe that it’s a mark on that person’s record. It’s like, “They’re not good leadership material.” No. You are not leading. You are abdicating your leadership because you haven’t been able to see that this is your crutch. Because of that, you’re now looking for other people that share that crutch and can learn to run using the same crutch you have. That’s not leadership. What we’re left is you can raise up the people that operate similarly to you, but you’re unable to support those that need something beyond mere expertise. Remember, as a leader, your job is to be able to develop leadership in everyone. The leader who can maximally develop leadership, who can create leaders out of the most people, is the most profound leader. Anytime we’ve got these blind spots that make some people eligible for leadership and others not, you’re diminishing your leadership capacity.

Why does this matter? Hopefully, that’s abundantly clear. Let’s say some stuff anyhow. First, it’s the same deal. I’m playing it out in two different spheres, one in coaching and one in leadership. Remember that your job is to develop the leadership of all those that you lead, not the ones that look like you. That’s what’s happening here. These coaches we talked about are getting clients that look like them and have learned to use the same crutch. You’re like, “Here’s my crutch, I’ve learned to run with it. If this crutch is shaped in a way that fits you, you too can learn to run with it.”

I remember a friend of mine, who was in a program, by a well-known person who ran a funnel, one of these funnel things. My friend was saying that what would happen was people would quit. They dropped out of the program because they weren’t getting what they wanted. They weren’t getting the money. It wasn’t working for them. This person that ran this program would say, at that point, “I guess they don’t like money” as though that’s the issue. It’s like, “The problem is they decided they don’t like money and they quit.” The problem is that this person wasn’t able to work with those people because they did not have the same crutch that he did. This shows up in all these places.

A leader’s job is to develop leadership in all those that they lead, not just the ones that look like them. Share on X

The thing is, even if you are helping people learn to walk with your crutch, you’re going to get bored of it because you’re not stepping out into the unknown. You’re doing more of what you already know to do. You’re operating in your comfort zone. You’ll get listless and bored. You tell yourself, “Maybe I need a higher class of client.” It’s all going to feel the same. The majority of leaders in the world are passing on expertise and then selecting those they deem worthy and capable of leadership. It’s fine and we don’t need to make that wrong. I’m inviting you, the person reading, to step into a deeper context for a leader and a deeper level of your growth. Play out on your edge. Move beyond teaching and training to leading.

What do you do about this? First and most important, you can distinguish training and teaching from developing leadership. Notice when you’re teaching, training, exposing, handing out wisdom, all of which will feel good, and then notice that that’s different from standing for someone else. If you want a refresher on what I mean by standing for someone, check out Episode 12. I want to touch on that. Teaching, training, handing out expertise, handing out wisdom feels more gratifying in the short term than developing leadership because you get to stand on a pedestal and you get to distribute your wisdom, knowledge. People will be grateful. You’ll get recognized for all the work you’ve done. The short term has been compelling for our ego. In the long term, it’s dull and boring because you’re hanging out on what you already know. You’re not helping people transform, set themselves free, which is exhilarating and scary. You take the fear out of it, which is nice. You don’t go too much deeper.

Notice the people that you have written off in your leadership and notice the people that you naturally regard as leaders. See in whatever area you are operating in if you can identify these people. It’s like “Who are the people I have already decided they’re not going to be a leader, aren’t capable, or they don’t have it? Who are the people that I can regard as leaders?” Take a look and see if you can see where you’ve been teaching rather than leading and leaning towards a preference along those lines, those people that we’ve distinguished. If you’re a coach, practice setting aside your expertise. It is not what is most interesting or enrolling about you.

See if you can set that aside entirely and simply be with the person and stand for them to step further into their truth. Finally, take on noticing when you feel pulled by someone to provide training or expertise. Instead, invite them to take a swing. Help them distinguish the pattern and step out of it rather than stepping into the pattern with them and reiterating it. What most coaches and leaders do is rather than stay off the cord and help the person see what’s happening, they get into that same pattern and help the person go around it even faster and unwittingly too. They’re not wrong for it. When we haven’t committed ourselves, when we haven’t dropped in deep enough for ourselves, we can’t see this. We’re unwitting in it. We blindly stumble into this with the person.

I’m going to keep priming you for The Forge. We have ten seats. It is a nine-month program. It runs from September through to May. It’s an $8,000 commitment. It is a life-changing program for coaches and leaders. If you jive on this content, if you’re like, “I love this. I wish that I could have somewhere to practice this and put it into place and not understand it and think about it but get it in the marrow of my bones.” The Forge is the place to do that. It is a remarkable program, truly transformational. I wouldn’t be pimping it if it wasn’t. I wouldn’t be doing it if not because I have a singular mission on this planet and that is to create transformation. Anything that’s not serving that mission, I’m not interested in doing. If you feel that calling you, if that feels something that might be true for you, let’s have a conversation about it. Let’s make that happen. You can email me at Adam@AdamQuiney.com. I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode.


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