Dawn Denvir was the Head of Organizational Learning and Development at UNICEF. Her comment taps into a powerful conundrum.
Really, why would anyone resent genuine expertise?
Expertise is a potent source of personal power. When deployed with a clear-eyed understanding of social context, it has the potential to significantly expand our influence in our professional playgrounds.
Emphasis, here, is on social context.
Take me, for example. I wrote a book on Public Speaking, back in the days. It has been translated into several other languages. I have coached CEOs and C-Suite executives on Public Speaking for over 20 years. I am an expert on Public Speaking.
Every person I coach, however, already knows a whole bunch about Public Speaking. S/he has likely taken a Public Speaking class. Received lots of feedback about her presentations from colleagues and a boss. Formed his own inner benchmarks about Public Speaking based on observing other speakers.
If I come in as the all-knowing public speaking guru who knows better than anyone else, I might quickly be seen as the arrogant super-jerk from hell. If I, on the other hand, don’t fully own my expertise and knowledge of best practices, I don’t help the client I am supposed to serve as fully as I might.
Yes, they want me to be the expert. And they might, quite possibly, resent me for being the expert.
I need to make choices about how I “hold” my expertise.
To complicate matters, expertise is not a stagnant entity. We don’t just reach this magical expertise plateau, coast there and hang out. Expertise continuously evolves, refines, gets stale – or becomes redundant. Notions of what exceptional Public Speaking looks like, for example, have evolved over the last 20 years and continue to do so.
What are your areas of professional expertise? How well do you harness these areas to be of service in your places of work? And is your expertise a true animator of personal influence for you?
As you navigate the complexities of how you deploy your expertise, consider the following guidelines.
How to Navigate Expertise Power
Offer, Don’t Force.
When asked, offer your expertise freely. When you are not asked but have a sense that your expertise might be of value, step forward and suggest that you have expertise to share. Don’t force your expertise on folks. Certainly, do not withhold it.
When you offer your expertise, be mindful of how much of your expertise will actually be of help in any given situation. Do not offer more than your stakeholders need or desire. It’s a classic stereotype that “subject-matter experts” consistently bring too much detail to a conversation, don’t properly assess how much granularity an audience needs, and soon wear people out. Over-delivered expertise diminishes your influence fast.
Furthermore, don’t confuse offering your expertise with getting the outcome you want. You may have offered compelling expertise in a key decision-making forum, and the decision didn’t go your way. It seems to, in fact, discard your expertise. Don’t become the expertise bully. Don’t force an outcome that may not have the support you had hoped for, your expertise notwithstanding.
Don’t Play the “Like Me” Game.
Your expertise is undeniable. Folks know you have it. And yet, there is a good chance you may have some mind chatter going on about your expertise. I don’t want people to be intimidated by me. Don’t want people to think I’m a Know-It-All. I just want to be one-of-the-gang. Don’t want anyone to think I’m better than them. Don’t want the old-timers to resent me.
I trust it’s clear how ridiculous these thoughts are. Yet we have all had them. These thoughts are fueled by many factors – not the least of which the desire to be liked. Many of us are willing to abandon our expertise at the drop of a hat when we are on a “like me” quest.
Don’t over-offer, as outlined in the preceding bullet point. And certainly, don’t under-offer. When I under-offer or withhold, my expertise is of no value to anyone I work with. It is also of no value to my professional impact as I am actively undermining my ability to build influence. If you have any sense that you may be under-offering, do a bit of inner excavation. What within you is keeping you from more fully stepping into your Expertise Power?
Share Expertise Behind the Scenes.
There is great power in sharing wisdom and expertise when the stakes aren’t high. Expertise-sharing is especially potent when it is done behind the scenes. Follow a blog in your area of expertise that you think others in your orbit may find valuable? Share it. Listen to a Podcast that inspired you and might be pertinent for your colleagues at work? Share it.
This sort of casual expertise-sharing is simple. It is unforced. It is not outcome-driven. It shows that you care about continuous learning, and that you are committed to adding value to everyone around you. It will, at the same time, cement your position as an undeniable expert. Everyone wins.
Keep Expanding Your Expertise.
My friend Rosemary Ravinal is a seasoned public speaking coach, with a special expertise in supporting bilingual and bicultural executives. As our world went whole-hog virtual last year, Rosemary fully claimed her expertise in showing up professionally in virtual business settings. She created Zoomscore, a tool that helps leaders assess the quality of their virtual presence. Rosemary voraciously studies the latest research and trends in virtual meetings and virtual work culture. And Rosemary studiously shares her knowledge with the folks who follow her, and who she serves.
In other words – Rosemary’s expertise is fresh. It is current. It is often trend-setting. And by consistently owning this expertise, Rosemary has expanded her influence in the public forum of virtual workplace assimilation and integration. She has become a true go-to expert for virtual public speaking. And while you may not care about being a public influencer like Rosemary, the same principles apply to anyone who wishes to expand their influence in-house: Keep your expertise fresh. Share it freely. Folks will notice.
Leadership is INFLUENCE. If people can increase their influence, they CAN lead more effectively.”
Influence is the key lever to having an impact in the world, not personal power. Yet we will never have true influence in any aspect of our lives if we do not understand – and play well with – the hidden language of power.
In this Post, I have merely scratched the surface of one of 5 Power Plugs. There are 4 more. Without a keen understanding of all 5 of these Power Plugs, our impact in the world will always be diminished. We will continue to hit familiar walls. Crumble in the face of the same old barriers.
Don’t crumble, and don’t be diminished. In my work I see, over and over again, that understanding the hidden language of power dynamics is THE threshold where personal influence starts to expand.
If this at all peeks your interest, please join me for a rare FREE 30-minute Virtual Masterclass. 5 Keys to Expanding Your Personal Influence. I so look forward to delivering this high-content and fast-paced Masterclass for you. It is my sincere wish that it will elicit a whole bunch of lightbulb moments for every single person who attends.