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Are You Stuck in the Expertise Gap?

Executive coach Cloé Caron says it's time to find your Unique Strategic Contribution.

By Cloé Caron

Through my many years of coaching and management experiences, I have come to realize that most leaders, from first line to C-Suite, experience the same struggle: they find it difficult to step out of their expert role to focus on their leadership role. Rather than play at the right level, they get stuck in what I call ‘the expertise gap.’ 

How do you know if you’re in the expertise gap? You feel you must know all the answers, make most of the decisions, and be part of many meetings. You think getting involved in the daily grind will get things done and set the pace for the team, so your to-do list gets filled with expert operational tasks. And you don’t have time to get the most important strategic stuff done — like reflecting, setting orientations and goals, creating strategies, giving feedback, and owning your development and that of the team.

To help leaders grow out of the expertise gap and focus on the true impact they can have, I have developed the Unique Strategic Contribution (USC) concept. It allows you to focus your intention and attention in the right place, maximizing your impact on a day-to-day basis. 

Generally, if you’re not doing what you should, you’ll feel it. You will shortly become overwhelmed by your workload. And that is a sign that you should be defining your USC. 

What is a Unique Strategic Contribution?

Your USC determines your contribution at your highest strategic level — what only you can and should achieve on your team. It is the element on which you should focus your attention and energy to create the most strategic impact in your organization.  

There might be many responsibilities you can and are able to do, but do they create the most impact? Are they at the core of your role?

For example, as a manager, what should you focus your attention on? Is it managing your agenda? Is it the daily emergencies of clients? Should you rather focus on giving your team a goal and sense of direction so that they know where they need to go? Should you rather focus on creating a work climate where they can strive and succeed, where you coach them so they can learn and grow?

Defining your own Unique Strategic Contribution will help you take a step back and look at the bigger picture of your daily focus.

Determining your own USC  

First, take the time to answer the following questions:

  • What is the ‘’why’’ of my role? 
  • In my team, what is it that only me can and should accomplish? 
  • What should be my contribution to my team and organization, at its highest strategic level possible?  

This exercise may not be easy at first. If it’s difficult to determine what only you in your team should do, think of it in terms of the impact you want and need to have. Having experienced it in many organizations, I know that determining your USC will change your state of mind and allow you to achieve results you did not think possible at first.   

You can now fill the following sentence to get you started: 

My USC is to ______________ in order to create ______________ and influence my team by______________.

You can also think about your team’s Unique Strategic Contribution. What is the thing only your team can do in the organization? How is your own USC aligned with your team’s?

Are you up for the USC Challenge?

It’s not easy for a leader to focus on their USC because our expertise gap often takes over. We want to give the answer, to make the decision, and to be involved in the operations because we often know the “how to” (or we think we do). I face this challenge in my own leadership role, and have to remind myself: Is this how I should be focusing my attention? 

To focus on your USC, you must delegate, rethink where you spend your time, and challenge your priorities — even when it isn’t easy. Otherwise, you will not be able to create the real impact you want to have in your organization. You must therefore learn to make room for your team so that each member can make decisions in their field of expertise and at their level.   

As your coach, allow me to challenge you:

  • Should you be attending all the meetings in your agenda?
  • Which decisions should you leave up to your team?
  • Which responsibilities and projects should you be delegating?

The advantages of the USC 

Once your USC is determined and you decide to put your focus on it, you will discover that you have time in your schedule to do the things that are core to your role. This will contribute greatly to making your team more accountable. It will give you a clearer vision of the impact you want to have, and it will make it easier for you to establish and track your KPIs to measure whether you are achieving your USC.

Your mindset will shift, enabling you to say “no” to what does not belong in your USC and say “yes” to what really matters to your team and organization. You will waste less energy on issues that do not help you make the impact you want to make. You will feel you are playing your role at its highest level, which will be fulfilling for you and create value for your organization. 

So, I’ll ask again: are you stuck in the expertise gap? Get started on your Unique Strategic Contribution!

Cloé Caron

Cloé Caron

President and founder of o2Coaching, Cloé is an executive coach, podcaster, and author. In her latest book, Dare to Empower — Women in the Lead, she helps professional and entrepreneur women operate five essential shifts to gain confidence to fully empower their career and their business for maximum growth and impact​.