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  • Writer's pictureKim Hafjall


Updated: Apr 4, 2023

Meet Peter, your Expert manager in action

Peter is dedicated to his work as head of a finance function in a larger corporate. Despite feeling very competent, he always believes he can improve more. Using hours on refining financial analyses and notes are hours given good out - everything has to be perfect. When Peter leads his team of 18 finance professionals, he certainly values the professional environment he works in.

Peter senses he gets a great deal of recognition from his team and peers who lead the other finance functions within the finance area and enjoys it. Peter only really respects two of his peers; both are technically strong - the others are too much talking and politics. Peter's methodical approach to problem-solving helps him deliver excellent results within his area. Still, Peter has identified several areas where the processes and procedures can improve.

Peter has three direct reports. One is very strong in her field, and another newcomer is showing significant progress. And then there is Mary. Mary is not strong, and despite Peter really wanting her to get technical better – he is not sure she is fit for the job. Peter has caught her out several times in leadership meetings, unable to answer all questions and to know details, leading to Peter asking more detailed questions to test how good Mary is. Mary seems to focus more on making her eight people large team work excellently, which reflects in the yearly satisfaction survey, where Mary scores the highest of all the finance managers. Peter has identified a member in Mary's group that he considers a rising star and is thinking about promoting him if Mary does not soon show technical progress.

Once a week, the finance director, Claire, hosts a top-team finance meeting. Peter joins but often finds the meetings boring. Peter's finance function is very specialised, and several of his leader colleagues do not fully appreciate the complexity of his field. When he makes presentations, he seeks to give them as much detail as possible, so they can fully comprehend the complexity, but he senses they don't get it. At least their attention soon drops, and he notices a lack of interest. For the rest of the meeting, he will generally try to be present, but soon his mind wanders to areas of more importance – and it happens that he suddenly takes his phone and send an urgent message to one of his team members.

In the yearly performance review meeting, Claire praises Peter for his technical knowledge and expertise. Peter knows he is good but still like hearing this appraisal. But she also points out that Peter should step up as a leader and take a greater interest in finance's broader perspective and direction. That is the second year in a row that she has said this, but Peter disagrees with this critique. He has year after year, shown how his function has delivered remarkable results within his area to the group. He has identified areas within his function that he can improve – areas his predecessor had not spotted. However, he will gain little to argue against his FD, so he often just verbally agrees with her and promise to focus on it. Inside he is not convinced.

Peter and his alike may make up to 45% of the executive population. However, the percentage will be lower in organisations with a high focus on people development.

Leadership Agility Compass

The Leadership Agility Compass, as defined by Joseph and Joiners, 2007*, operates with four areas of competencies or focus areas for the agile leader. These are:

  1. Context-Setting Agility: The larger systemic context surrounding your initiative.

  2. Stakeholder Agility: Your initiative’s key stakeholders.

  3. Creative Agility: The specific problems and opportunities your initiative must address for it to be successful.

  4. Self-leadership Agility: Yourself as a leader.

Below is a more in-depth description of an expert leader's capacities and limitations, seen through the lens of the four angles.

Experts evaluated through the Leadership Agility Compass

Context setting agility

- Situational awareness: Like a still camera - good at focusing on one thing.

- Sense of purpose: Leadership initiatives are primarily tactical, not team and organisation. Experts prioritise the most urgent task of many (but not necessarily the most important). When setting targets, they tend to be tactical by nature.

Stakeholder agility

- Stakeholder Understanding: Experts can infer personal traits, abilities and emotional states. Have some tolerance for people whose backgrounds and viewpoints differ from theirs but are not easily deflected from what they believe to be correct. Can criticise and blame others.

- Power style is based on expertise or org authority (formal authority is needed). Most experts are task-oriented in their leadership, but a minor group focus more on working relationship. The first group tend to be assertive, the second more accommodative. Motivating stakeholders and managing expectations are not well developed among experts. Experts find it difficult to delegate to or trust others to do the job well because only they can do it right. Tend to take back delegated work as soon as it seems to be going badly.

Creative agility

- Reflective Judgement: Have developed a capacity for analysis that allows them to think more independently and examine issues in greater detail. Begin to rely on their judgment. Once an expert's opinion is locked, they find it difficult to believe that other views might be equally valid. Hence reflective capacity is limited. Experts often oppose the group norm if it doesn’t fit their preferences or knowledge. Value correctness and decisions based on authority – which often may be technical knowledge, science, professors and so on but disregard context and other contingencies. Experts see progress and improvement exclusively through their functional lens (sales, finance, HR and so on).

- Connective Awareness: Experts are less likely to make meaningful connections between ideas and experiences over time. Compared to Conformers/Diplomats, they think less black and white and can now see degrees of right and wrong but remain in an either-or mindset.

Self-leadership agility

- Self-awareness: Expert's strong analytical awareness gives them some capacity for introspection, and there are more nuances to how feelings are articulated. This new introspective awareness helps experts recognise recurring inner moods and develop a more independent image of themselves (what they believe in and stand for). Self-image includes the perception of the current role, professional skills, and personality traits. Self-awareness is developed to the level where an expert can acknowledge that not “all” skills needed to become the aspirational leader they admire are yet there.

- Developmental Motivation: Shaped by leadership ideal, professional self-esteem and emotional tone used to evaluate self. Still strongly motivated by what others think of them regarding knowledge and skills. Goals and standards are taken very seriously, and experts tend to blame themselves harshly when not performing to their expectations.

Reflections points

  • Which of the strong capacities at the Expert stage can you recognise in yourself?

  • Which of the limitations at the Expert stage can you recognise in yourself?

  • Can you think of someone operating solidly at the Expert stage?

  • Are you operating at the Expert stage?

Next Week's Blog Post

Peter has vertically developed in the next blog post and now operates solidly at the Achiever stage. This becomes visible in how Peter observes things and leads and manages himself and others. Remember to sign-up; hence you get a notification when the blog post is released.


* Joiner, B & Josephs, S. 2007. Leadership Agility – Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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