Remember the children’s story, The Emperor’s New Clothes? In case you never read the classic Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, it goes something like this: Two tailors hit up a very vain (Carly Simon’s ex-boyfriend perhaps) Emperor for a lot of cashola, promising to make him a fabulous, life-changing suit. They convince him that he’s special, and only people of his stature can actually see the suit, so when they show him the (nonexistent) fabric, he pretends he can see it. After all, he’s supposed to be able to see it, right? He doesn’t want the tailors to know he can’t actually see the fabric (which again, does not exist).
When the tailors return with the finished “suit,” they make a big deal about dressing him, and then let him go out into the village to parade around in… you guessed it, his birthday suit! Yup. The Emperor so much wanted to believe the tailors’ expert opinion about his character and his wardrobe, he actually went out into the streets buck naked (been there, done that).
Everyone is an Expert
We all need advice from time to time. Experts (me included) will gladly share their wisdom with anyone who needs it. The problem with experts (again, me included) is that sometimes they aren’t qualified to give advice. And worse, sometimes they are wrong. (I get that I’m walking a fine line because this article is technically my expert opinion, but hear me out.) The main problem with experts today: Everyone is an expert. Just for fun, ask the next five people you come in contact with in what areas they consider themselves to be experts. You are likely to find they are all experts in something – social media, home remedies, marketing, or just life. (I’m not dissing life coaches, but there are an awful lot of them roaming the Internet these days.) My personal favorites are those people who are experts in coaching people how to be experts.
Don’t get me wrong; we all need experts. The next time my dishwasher breaks, I want an expert in appliance repair to come fix it. And sure, if my business is lagging in the marketing department, I want an expert to help me kick it into gear. But I want a real expert, not someone who is going to feed me a line or blow smoke up my marketing hole. Hiring unqualified, opportunistic, or just plain green experts can really hurt your business. Here are the seven warning signs that you might be working with an expert who is anything but:
1. Been There, Done That? They Haven’t.
You’ve got a real company, with real problems and challenges – the last thing you need is an expert who has only considered these things in theory. A coach may have training in your field, but nothing beats hands-on, from-the-trenches experience. You want a coach or expert who has actual, real-life experience doing what you are doing, or what you aspire to do.
2. Big Words, Little Action.
It’s easy for an expert to gain credibility by writing (hey, look who’s talking… ahem…writing). Many experts quickly dominate their industry offering up sage advice in the blogosphere, writing a book, or creating some other content. But words mean nothing if you can’t execute. Look for coaches who practice what they preach, experts who both write (or speak) about what they do, and do what they write (or speak) about.
3. Render Advice When They Shouldn’t.
I don’t care if an expert has a hundred years of consulting experience in your industry, if they are not the end consumer of your product or service, their advice about the sheer awesomeness of your product or service is wrong. Anyone who claims to know if your idea is brilliant or bunk when they have no use or desire for it is no better than a psychic with a plastic “crystal ball.” The consumer knows what she wants – listen to her. Go for coaches or experts who, if not one of your end consumers, suggest you seek input from those who are.
4. Doesn’t Have a Coach.
Most coaches and experts will tell you that everyone could benefit from coaching/expert consultation, and so also employ their own coach or expert to help them with their own issues and goals. When an expert considers himself to be an exception to that rule, it’s a huge red flag because he either doesn’t really believe coaching is effective, or he thinks he has nothing left to learn. Look for a coach who also uses the services of a coach or expert to take their own life/business to the next level.
5. Doesn’t Learn from You.
Stellar experts are not all knowing; they simply have superior knowledge and hands-on experience in one category. When a coach isn’t eager to learn about your company and your industry, you may be getting a one-size-fits-all solution that may or may not work for you. Which, let’s be frank, you can just get from a book. Experts may have well-developed strategies that work most of the time, but to really be effective, they must learn and understand your business and tailor their guidance to your specific needs. Look for an expert or coach who is ready and willing to be both teacher, and student.
6. Tells You What You Want to Hear.
We all want to hear that we’re brilliant innovators destined for wealth and happiness beyond our wildest dreams – but what if it’s only partly true? What if our ideas need tweaking in order to work? What if we need to get real about our strengths and weaknesses so as not to kill our project before it gets off the ground? What if we’re making newbie mistakes or pie-in-the-sky projections that could put our dreams at risk? When a coach is overly complimentary and assuring of your greatness, it could be you have your own scheming tailor who will eventually convince you to buy your own version of the Emperor’s invisible suit because you are so amazing. Beware of “yes men” (and women). Instead, seek out coaches or experts who aren’t afraid to tell you like it is. I mean, that’s their job, right?
7. You Tell Me….
Hiring a coach or an expert to help you grow your business is a fantastic idea, but unless you want to end up parading down the street in the buff, heed the warning signs! And if an expert tries to sell you on something you know is just plain wrong (like nonexistent fabric), speak up! I don’t profess to know everything about hiring effective coaches or experts. So now it’s your turn. Fill in the final number: From your experience, what is the seventh warning sign?