You are an expert.
How does that feel when you read it? Do you believe it?
Throughout my career, I've witnessed how difficult it can be for people, including myself, to refer to oneself as an "expert."
An expert? Who, me? You must be talking to the person behind me…there must be someone who can do this better, or who knows more about this than me…
Even the concept of being an expert is a bit obscure. There is no test that determines definitively whether you are an expert, and there is no one who decides you're an expert. You have to claim it. And you don't have to be in a leadership position, have a published book, or be the president of a company to be an expert.
All it really means to be an expert is that you have a thorough understanding of your focus area and the value that it provides for people. Pretty simple, right?
And yet, it is all too common for people to question their expertise. If you don't see yourself as an expert in what you do, you may have impostor syndrome—a pattern in which you doubt your accomplishments and feel like a fraud—to thank for that. If you've achieved any type of success at all in your career, you've likely experienced the feeling of being an impostor, a fraud. I know I have.
Confronting Impostor Syndrome
I began to notice this impostor syndrome in myself years ago when I worked for a large corporation full of knowledgeable people, many with PhD's in material sciences. When working with people who knew so much about their subject, it was easy to compare myself and think I may not know enough. It also meant that I had a lot of other people to check against any decision I was going to make or what I was going to do. This access to resources wasn't a bad thing, but one day my boss said, "You're the expert in the room," and it hit me. I didn't feel that way at first, but it was true. I was a resource for them in the same way they were for me.
When I came on board at Fierce as the SVP of Sales, I realized that I would need to trust what I had learned through my career and recognize when I needed to find external resources to help. I've joined industry organizations, I'm building a network of sales experts from other industries and companies that I can connect and share ideas with, and most importantly I'm learning from my very capable team. After all, they are a resource for me the same way I am for them.
At Fierce, for example, the members of our sales team know the ins and outs of our product and the value it provides for people. They understand the landscape of our business and understand how our product operates in healthcare, education, and everywhere. They're in their roles here because they want to share Fierce with others, and they want to be a consultant for our product. They might even tell you they're a consultative sales person. They're experts on how to solve conversation problems in business.
Here's why leaders need to see themselves and their team members as experts…
As a leader, if you don't confront impostor syndrome and try to see yourself and others as an expert, your entire organization will basically be waiting for an expert to step up to the plate.
No magical expert unicorn is going to fly out of the sky and save your company. You and the people you work with are the magical unicorns, and it's up to each of you to say, "I've got this." Success is built on everyone stepping up, and if you're waiting for someone else, you'll be left stranded. Initiatives will stall, productivity will suffer, and confidence will wane. Problems will pile up.
It's also more harmful than it may seem for a leader to take the perspective that the people who they lead are not experts, both for the organization and the individuals. Thoughts like you're not of that caliber are harmful to people emotionally. And if these beliefs are said aloud, it leaves an emotional wake that can cause serious damage to relationships.
This concept really parallels with the idea of "being enough" in our society. If you depend on external validation to feel like you're inherently good enough, it won't be a solid truth for you the moment you're met with disapproval of who you are.
Ultimately, the only person who can truly validate you is you. It must come from within if it's going to be your truth and if you're going to live your life from a place of I am good enough, I am smart, I am strong. Start there, and let it serve as the foundation for everything else you do.
Here are some strategies for leaders to reinforce "expert" mentality in themselves and others…
As a leader, remember that the process of learning got you where you are today.
You know a lot more than you think, and in order to validate yourself, put yourself out there…attend events, have those important conversations, and share what you know with other people. When you do, you'll see how what may seem like obvious or mundane knowledge is exciting and completely new to other people. When you see the positive impact on other people, take notice and let that sink in.
It's not about having all the answers. Instead, it's about getting curious, asking questions, and continually learning and growing in your focus area. You can learn more from whatever that conversation becomes. You inevitably expand your knowledge and your reach.
You may not be able to convince someone anyone on your team that they are an expert, but you can reinforce and encourage this idea in a way that will make it easier for them to see it and truly believe it.
One way to encourage this mentality is to place your employees in situations where they have to stand up and share what they know. At Fierce, we often stand up during our meetings and talk about what we're working on and the challenges we're facing, which helps us learn from each other. We also began a "lunch and learn" series this past month, where our leaders across the organization are encouraging individuals to present on a topic they know a lot about to the team.
Have your team speak at industry events and look for ways that they can get in front of their peers and share their knowledge. Make sure to prepare with them and support them if you make this kind of request—have a preparation meeting, review the presentation together before, and make sure you're setting them up for success.
It's also essential to verbally communicate to your team members that they are the experts in the room. Have that conversation with them. I know from experience that it truly helps when someone tells you this. It's a gift that you can give as a leader.
It's a symbiotic relationship that we have with everyone else in our profession. When we share your knowledge, we help others become experts, and we grow into a person who others can lean on.
You and your team are magical expert unicorns, and you know your industry…
Now go share what you know with the world.
Want to know how to have better conversations in your company and empower your team? Request training from our experts at Fierce.