If you’re like me, you’ve noticed that everyone these days is being marketed as an expert. It makes me feel like the definition should be changed. The saying might be true that you don’t need to be a world class athlete to coach one, and you don’t have to be an expert to start sharing your wisdom and insight with others, but I do believe you should be able to do your own plumbing before you start working on other people’s pipes.
When we launched our Speaking Program last year, it was important for me to be at the stage I was. I had reached the point of 15 years of paid speaking, having delivered TEDx Talks, and having been in the trenches for years.
I felt I had to be at a certain stage before teaching others how to do the same.
You can see our program at www.thespeakingprogram.com and next month we’ll release the videos that go into detail about my journey. We list those videos before the launch because I believe it is important for me to have been there, before trying to help someone else get there.
Now, this isn’t to say that again you can’t teach something long before putting in thousands of hours, and years in the trenches. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character noted in the movie ‘Catch Me If You Can’ that he was able to teach a high-level class by simply staying one chapter ahead of his students.
BUT, you should be at least be a little bit ahead of those you are teaching, have a unique perspective or have some experience accomplishing what you’re promising you can, or helping other’s accomplish it.
I’ve become passionate about, and also very conscious of, the fact that not everyone should be able to claim they they are an expert at achieving something if they haven’t achieved, or haven’t at least some level of experience in.
For instance, the other day I saw a post by someone on Linked-in that read, in essence, “the business I’m involved in can help you quit your day job, enjoy the life of your dreams, and set your own hours.” Then it noted that they did the same years ago, and could teach you how to do the same, and that this was their entire focus.
The job title on their post noted that they presently work at the front desk of a car dealership, and they have another evening job at a restaurant.
Now, I’m not trying to say that every single job in the world isn’t of high value, or that one person’s career is more valuable than another, but I do feel that if you say the person you’re targeting can quit their day job by working with you, you should have at least accomplished what you are saying you have.
Sure, it is conceivable that they are choosing to work at both places, but it’s more likely that they are not yet able to quit their day job, which is of course fine. It’s certainly likely they are not setting their own hours at the car dealership and restaurant. I haven’t come across many car dealerships that let you completely decide on your hours.
My concern is not the person’s career, but rather that the person seems to be claiming to an expert in an area that they really aren’t.
Again, people can help others achieve stuff they haven’t personally achieved. Life coaches, for instance, can help you dramatically on your journey, and keep you accountable during that journey, if they are really skilled at coaching people. Perhaps their expertise is in coaching people to achieve goals rather than personally achieving them.
BUT I don’t think a life coach who has been out of work for a year and is actively and desperately trying to find a new career should be promoting themselves as a career coach.
Here then, are two things experts are not.
1. Experts are not someone who has just started in a certain field without some sort of previous connection to the field, or training, or time in the trenches.
I mentioned we train Speakers through our programs. Many speakers speak on subjects they may not trained or certified in. For instance, someone speaking on addiction may not have taken any counseling courses, but they may have had a personal struggle (or family struggle) with addiction and this could give them an enough expertise and experience to share this message than even the most academic of counselors. Many addicts would say it qualifies them even more than an expert who hasn’t battled some form of addiction personally.
BUT, if you haven’t taken any addiction training, and you have never experienced any level of addiction personally, I don’t think it’s fair to say you’re an expert in addictions or to try to convince an addict to hire you to help them quit their addiction based on you being an expert in doing so.
In fact, the thesaurus notes that experts are skillful, practiced, professional, knowledgeable, adept, a specialist, an authority – you get the idea. In my opinion, you should be at least one of these before you take someone’s money claiming that you are.
2.Experts are not someone who has all the answers.
In my opinion, every true expert learned their craft somewhere. They also realize the day we stop learning is the day we stop growing. They subscribe to the importance of life-long learning and keep feeding their mind long after some would feel the need to. If you ask a question they truly don’t know the answer for, true experts will seek that answer for you rather than making one up. Part of being an expert is knowing how to find the answers you don’t currently have. Expert’s aren’t scared of growth.
In the end, experts shouldn’t be scared of growth, experts should have some connection to, or experience in, the field. Experts should have others who cite them as experts.
Otherwise, in my opinion, they are in the process of becoming an expert, and as Seinfield would say, “not that there is anything wrong with that.”
In the end, if you doubt someone’s expertise, it’s okay to do some research. You may be thankful you did.