The Third Turn

Written by Dr. Mark L. Vincent & Kristin Evenson
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Episode 31: SMEs As a Litmus Test for Leadership

Posted by Kristin Evenson on Oct 12, 2021 8:00:00 AM
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SMEs As a Litmus Test for Leadership
Episode #31 of the Third Turn Podcast. 


Does the use of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) as a litmus test for leadership seem a bold and unusual statement?  Hear us out as Mark and I explain this perspective, having led and served on both sides of the fence--as executive leaders and as SMEs.  (And as you listen, you’ll note that we changed the title post-recording--wink wink.)

Why and how would the use of SMEs be any kind of litmus test? Especially for the Third Turn leader? 

If, when, and how we use SMEs throughout our leadership journey can snapshot:

  • Whether we lead with an I-need-to-have-all-answers persona and pressure (think back to Episode #27 with Scott Rodin), or recognize the value of outside objectivity and timely expertise at strategic junctures; 
  • Whether we penny pinch talent allocations, insisting on in-house resources in all cases, or plan and budget for broader thought-leadership and resource needs when merited;
  • Whether we fall prey to the latest/greatest methods and strategies for their own sake, or engage SMEs first and foremost in ultimate service of the mission, values, and operational culture.

Mark and I discuss these dynamics and have lived experience from the best and worst sides of the SME litmus test.

  • The leader who glossed over a staff suicide in fairly short order, totally missing the needs of the team--rather than reaching out for expert help and resources that were desperately needed in a painful time.
  • The president who didn’t have patience for his in-house SME who had deep reservations about the very real operational ramifications associated with a sexy new strategy;
  • And on a brighter note: The innovation story where brand managers enlisted brand elasticity and product/packing innovation SMEs for a new product introduction that ultimately leveraged the very best of both the mission and brand, and its collaborative expert teams.

Especially at the Third Turn, as we intentionally peer into the mist of future opportunity, vitality, and value, Subject Matter Experts in areas like trends and innovation, strategic finance modeling, and talent development can bring much-needed perspective to serve and grow the mission in fresh, timely, market-relevant ways. And whether, when, and how we engage them can serve as a litmus test both for the types of leaders we are and for our outcomes and probability of success.

Dig-deeper resources: 

Kristin Evenson
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- Kristin Evenson


With each episode of the Third Turn Podcast we host a conversation among leaders who want the world to flourish for generations beyond their lifetimes.

Listening with others in some way and enjoying in-depth conversations of your own as you reflect and choose what you would do the same or differently is a plus!

We always welcome you sharing these podcasts with others as well as sending along any suggestions for making these podcasts better.

The Third Turn Podcast is part of the Maestro-level leaders initiative, a production of Design Group International. Strategically Connected's Jennifer Miller is the producer.


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Topics: organizational problem solving, leadership legacy, Managing Change, leadership transition, Transforming Influence, change, Maestro-level Leaders, The Third Turn, Maestro, Future Value, leadership culture, subject matter expert, SMEs

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