As I was going through my LinkedIn requests to connect last week, I noticed a growing trend on professional headlines that I pray will disappear faster than parachute pants in the 80’s did. What about those professionals who feel comfortable calling themselves “experts” and “gurus” and even the ones that say “ninja” and “master authority”? Hmm…really?
Expertise is a funny thing.
I’m all for taking the time to maintain your profile on LinkedIn. It is super important and we all want to put our best foot forward so people know we are dynamic human beings, but should people feel THAT comfortable with these sorts of words? To present themselves as the ‘guiding light’ of their profession? Who are these individuals REALLY trying to impress: themselves or potential clients?
Out of sheer curiosity, I went to three very familiar people’s profiles to see if they even had a LinkedIn profile (they did!) and then wondered, “What does it say about them?” Here we go!
President Barack Obama – his professional headline merely said, “President of the United States of America”. Regardless of what you think of him politically, he’s legit one of the most powerful people in the world and yet I looked – trust me, I read every single word – and nowhere does it say “expert” or “guru”. Nope, not there and he has more than 2 million followers.
Next up was Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Airlines. I checked out his LinkedIn profile too and he admits he is a tie-loathing adventurer, but nothing about being a “wind warrior” or that he owns more than 400 companies. What about his net worth which is estimated at $5.1 billion dollars? Surely that qualifies him as a “guru”? Nope – he just hates ties. [My husband does too!]
That leaves Reid Hoffmann. He’s the co-founder of LinkedIn, is on the board of Airbnb and is the partner of Greylock. Now he must be using these words because he helped create LinkedIn, right? I read the profile from top-to-bottom. His only reference is that LinkedIn will help you FIND experts, but not that he is one. Hmm… I would have thought for certain we would find it here!
So, if these accomplished individuals are not using these words,
Why on Earth is Anyone Else?
Next, it led me to Google the phrase, “What makes someone an expert?” and in less than a second 153,000,000 articles were returned by people, who probably think they are experts. The only reasonable explanation was from Wikipedia which cracked me up because anyone can change that to suit their needs, so now it begs me to question for financial professionals,“Is there anyone wondering why compliance officers hate this word so much?” An expert cannot be deemed by one person to someone else. Collectively, we need to stop using these terms to make us feel better about ourselves and start using words that make clients want to work with us. Let’s all get over ourselves!
Also, I’m not sure if you noticed that in each of the profiles above, they all did have one thing in common. The word “Influencer” was assigned by LinkedIn to their profiles. Why did LinkedIn strategically use that word versus “Ninja”? Dorie Clark explains it quickly and concisely in this recent Harvard Business Review Tip of the Day:
Influence Others Even If You’re Not an Expert
One of the most powerful forms of influence is authority, especially when it comes from your expertise. If you have 20 years of experience or you write for a certain publication, you have an increased ability to influence others. But how do you influence people if you don’t have those credentials? The first step is to borrow others’ expertise. If you’re a thoughtful curator of the best ideas in your field, people will turn to you for guidance. Another technique is to find commonalities with your audience. Having something in common can create a powerful psychological bond. It’s also important tobe strategic with your persuasion. If you can’t directly contact the person you’re trying to influence, try talking to someone close to them instead. Finally,create original content. Choose a platform that makes sense for you, then share about the issues in your field to build your reputation.
Adapted from “Get People to Listen to You When You’re Not Seen as an Expert,” by Dorie Clark.
Don’t get me wrong. Authority is a drug. Presidents of countries and companies can certainly command a room, but that is mostly due to their influence over others rather than their expertise alone. Once anyone gets to that level, they depend on teams of expertise and not on their own smarts. So, when you depend on a team of expertise, does that warrant you to say you’re an expert? I definitely think not.
Wouldn’t you rather be known as an “influencer” than an expert? Start thinking about how you influence others in your practice. Look at your words and ask others how they feel when they read your website or bio…and you need someone who will be grossly honest with you and honor the term “truth over peace”. Be ready to hear the real deal. It might sting, but it’s for your own good. Influence your connections, forget about being a know-it-all.
Be bigger, better and more BIONIC!
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