Park Perspectives: Coaching peers — How to not be an expert
By Crosby Fish, Two-Year MBA ’18
Park Perspectives are authored by Johnson’s Park Leadership Fellows.
At Cornell, we are surrounded by experts. The university has experts in just about anything you can imagine. There are experts in biological engineering, entomology, gender studies, nutrition, and computer science. There are fields of study that I’ve never even heard of (what is viticulture and enology?), but I’d be willing to bet that there are leading thinkers teaching in those departments. In this environment, I sometimes feel distinctly aware of my relative lack of deep technical expertise. Fortunately, there are moments when the tools that we are developing as graduate students—leadership of organizations and people—come to the fore and are put to the test.
A few weeks ago, I had the joy and privilege of helping to lead the Johnson MBA program’s annual Adirondack Leadership Trek, a three-day canoe trip on Middle and Lower Saranac Lakes. Having grown up just a few miles away in Lake Placid, I was excited to share my love for the Adirondacks with classmates. I was not just along for the ride, though. As one of the trip’s leaders, I was tasked with keeping a spotlight on the leadership challenges embedded in the journey and facilitating leadership learning opportunities for each of the people in my group.
This role might have felt more natural had my groupmates been younger or less experienced than me, but that was not the case. My group consisted of four other students that would be graduating with me in May 2018, all of whom had presumably benefited from the same personal and professional growth that I did in my first year. In short, I had been given the job of helping peers that I respect and admire grow as leaders despite not having any unique expertise to offer. This situation forced me to abandon the standard of expertise and embrace the actual task, which was to facilitate productive leadership conversations and act as a sounding board for group members that were stretching beyond their instinctual leadership styles.
Almost every one of my contributions to the leadership component of the trip came in the form of a question:
I asked people how they wanted to use the ‘laboratory’ of a camping trip to try out a new leadership style and what about that made them uncomfortable. I asked what they thought of their own effectiveness, and how they thought their group members could improve.
As a result, the people on the trip were teaching themselves and teaching each other, and I was just there to keep the conversation going.
I know that my group members had fun in the Adirondacks and like to think that they learned something about themselves in the process. For me, though, the experience was a valuable reminder that expertise is not a precondition for helping others develop. All it takes is a willingness to ask thoughtful questions, listen to the responses, and care about the answers. I may not be an expert, but it seems like that may not matter as much as I thought.
About Crosby Fish, Two-Year MBA ’18:
Previous Academic Institution: Williams College
Previous Employer: SSG Advisors
Internship: General Electric
Interests: Renewable Energy, Skiing, Biking, Travel, Music, Community