Three years ago I almost made a huge mistake. I had been at Rice for a year training students to be leaders and wanted to break out and do more work outside of the university as a consultant. My only problem was that I lacked credibility outside of my immediate job. The obvious move, it seemed, was to go back to school and get a Ph.D. Then no one could deny my credibility and, combined with my strengths in presenting and teaching, I could be unstoppable.
I studied for the GMAT, began researching Ph.D. programs like a fiend, and set my sights on an August start-date for graduate school. Then I took the GMAT. I never felt totally invested in the Ph.D. idea but the GMAT was the kick in the face I needed to bag the idea. I remember walking away with such clarity that this was not the path for me. It wasn’t just the content of the GMAT. It was like all of my doubts and the incongruence I had buried came to the surface. I didn’t need a Ph.D. to be credible. I didn’t know what I needed, but I knew that wasn’t it.
I committed to pouring myself into my job, becoming an expert in my current sphere, and spreading the word about what I knew. Three things helped me build the credibility that I leveraged and continue to leverage for my current job:
1. I read a ton of content in my subject area. I read articles in leadership and management from both academic journals and from online sources like Forbes, HBR, GBJ, and others. I then shared these article, or at the very least the ideas, with anyone I could. By sharing what I found, people associated me with the content and naturally saw me as a source of expertise.
2. I quote experts in every presentation I do. There are two ways to get credentials: One is to actually get the certifications and degrees and the other is to quote the people who got the certifications and degrees. The result, at least as far as I’ve found, is that either way has the same effect. You become the expert. Here’s what this looks like in a presentation: “______ is what I experienced and this is what so-and-so said that confirms my experience…”
3. I get the word out. I’m terrible with Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and this undoubtedly limits my influence. But to the extent that I can I present as often as possible to groups, talk to as many people as I can, and spread the word through this blog that I have expertise that I would like to share. By simply taking the step of offering perspective and advice I am viewed as an expert.
Think about the people you consider to be experts. With the exception of a few who have dedicated their lives to studying a topic, most of them are simply people who 1. learned something, 2. applied it, 3. reflected on it, and 4. now share the results and what they learned along the way with others. It’s an amazing concept.
I love this quote: “In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.” When I was meeting with a friend recently who is interested in the field of leadership development he asked me how I got to where I was. What I told him was this: “The only thing that separates you and me is that I have read one more book than you, applied it, and now teach it to others.” He laughed and countered that I was underselling myself. He said, “I have a hard time believing that’s all it takes. I mean, aren’t these books available to all of us?” Before I could even answer he got it: “Yes, they are. And yet no one takes the time to read and apply them, let alone reflect on them and share the results and strategies with others?!” Really, though, isn’t this how we all get to where we are? Study, apply, reflect, share. Engineers? Study engineering, try it out, reflect on what’s working and not working, and share their skill set with their employer. Doctors? Study medicine, apply it in labs and on patients, reflect on what’s working and not working, and tell the world what they do through journals and presentations at conferences.
The formula is the same for establishing expertise no matter where you are. So if you want to be a content expert, learn about the area you are interested in, try it out in your own life first, reflect on the successes and failures and the strategies that could be applicable to others, and share it. And while you’re sharing, share this post with someone who could benefit!
Hi! I'm Dustin.
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