Misconceptions About Experts. Who is Accountable for Your Choices?

By Mike Cardus  |  Organizational Development Consultant, Executive Exchange Facilitator

Currently, with the Covid-19 pandemic, polarized news sources, access to social media, and non-stop information, the presence of experts is ubiquitous. You may feel that the experts’ feedback is contradictory and confusing; however, this does not mean the expertise is not needed or valuable.

Expertise can help to resolve your problems and challenges when you know what you don’t know. For example, when you have financial questions, you go to a finance expert. When you face legal challenges, you find the lawyer who knows about that type of problem.

However, as a leader within your organization, knowing the limits or constraints on experts is necessary. While you may get ideas and suggestions from the experts, you still need to make a decision, and that decision may or may not align with the experts’ views.

Having just read ‘The Death of Expertise’ by Tom Nichols and Nichols does an excellent job explaining misconceptions about experts within any domain. The bold areas are Nichols work the italics below are my thoughts.

Experts are not puppeteers. They cannot control when leaders take their advice.

The leader that that expert is advising has the authority and accountability to take what is needed and act independently. The expert is not the decider. All the experts can offer is their expertise and observe how the other person takes and uses that to make a decision.

Experts cannot control how leaders implement their advice.

Experts are self-aware of their knowledge and how they see and interpret what is shared. The person who is benefiting from the expert’s advice will filter and understand the information in their way. The expert cannot ensure that the information is understood and used in the detail that they intended. A significant problem with expertise that much of what the expert knows cannot be understood without you gaining similar deep experience. When a person acts on an expert’s advice, they are doing so in their reference frame. 

No single expert guides a policy from conception through execution.

While the expert and the executive team may agree upon a course of action, it happens through people when the implementation happens. Many times, the implementors are delegated pieces and were not part of the initial discussions. When those doing the work are not a part of the original expert discussion, the intent and the end state may look very different. 

Experts cannot control how much of their advice leaders will take.

Experts offer advice, and leaders decide what to listen to. We often only hear the pieces that confirm biases and ignore the uncomfortable or ambiguous parts. People listen to what they want to hear, and when the incomplete use of the leader’s advice yield poor results, the expert is the easiest to blame.

Experts can only offer alternatives. They cannot make choices about values. They can describe problems, but they cannot tell people what they should do about them, even when there is agreement on the nature of those challenges.

Experts provide expertise based upon their area of knowledge, and they are to leave it at that. Deciding a value-based decision is the accountability and authority of the person making the decision.


When you understand the boundaries of the expert’s input and what you have to listen to, it will help. Many disagreements within organizations and teams stem from unclear roles. The expert’s purpose is to offer advice and let you decide how best to act upon that information.

Your purpose is to listen to the experts, synthesize the information in a way that makes sense, and then choose a direction.


Mike Cardus: BNP Executive Exchange Facilitator:
Mike has focused expertise in team building, managerial-leadership, and organization development. Frequently asked to create solutions to address the development of high-performance teams, retention of talent, the innovation of product and profit streams, group conflict, coaching of leaders, developing systems to drive positive behaviors, and development of skilled knowledge to increase organizational and personal effectiveness. Working primarily with teams and management within these organizations, his role has been honed to coach, counsel, facilitate and conduct focused group work. Learn more about Mike.