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Navigating the Expert vs Thought Leader Debate
Episode 14914th March 2023 • The Driven Woman Entrepreneur • Diann Wingert
00:00:00 00:28:22

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If you're looking to become a recognized expert or thought leader, this episode will show you how to maximize your credentials, expertise, and professional networks to get there. Unlock the secrets to establishing yourself as a thought leader by leveraging your connections.

"The term expert has really evolved in the last few years. It has gone from the definition of a person who has extensive knowledge and ability based on research, experience, education, occupation in a particular field to basically being somebody who knows a little bit more than the person they're trying to help."

Here’s what you will learn:

  • Understand the differences between experts, professionals, and thought leaders.
  • Learn about ethical and moral obligations as a professional.
  • Utilize online presence to build an expert business.
  • Leverage a professional network to become a thought leader.
  • Tap into professional goals to market yourself.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Here are the key points I cover:

  • Identity crises faced by professionals who start a coaching or consulting business 
  • How to know which path to take - expert or thought leader 
  • When and why your credentials matter 

Becoming a genuine expert takes time and dedication. Legitimate experts have accumulated a deep knowledge of their field over years of experience and research. A professional is generally defined as someone who is a member of a profession, who works in a specific professional capacity and is subjected to codes of conduct and stringent ethical and moral obligations, as well as government oversight and enforcement by a regulatory body.  

On the other hand, a thought leader is someone whose expertise is demonstrated by consistently answering the biggest questions in the minds of their target audience on their particular topic and who is asked to speak at keynotes. 

In the unregulated industry of coaching, it is important for professionals to include their background, expertise, and credentials in their marketing and promotion to maintain credibility, as this will indicate to potential clients that they are knowledgeable and experienced in their field.

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If you are a professional or expert who is ready to create a profitable, sought-after business based on your body or work,  maybe it’s time to talk about moving forward with expert guidance support & accountability to develop your expert or thought leader business, here’s how you book a free consultation with me for 1:1 coaching:

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Well, hey there, driven woman entrepreneur and welcome back for another solo episode of the podcast. Today is going to be a very short and to the point episode about experts and thought leaders. One of the reasons why I've been wanting to record this episode for a while is because many of the people I've worked with in the last several years are coming out of one of the profess and starting a business as a coach or consultant, one of the first decisions we make in crafting that business is are they an expert or are they a thought leader? Because in my opinion, those are two different paths.

What's really interesting to me is how many people love referring to themselves as an expert or thought leader who have, in my opinion, not really earned the right to do so while people who have earned the right to do so are often reluctant. It's kind of a fascinating thing. So I just wanna first go through the terms and then talk about what I think is really going on here, so let's talk about professionals. What is a professional, a professional is a member of a profession, a person who works in a specific professional capacity doing a specific professional activity. They may be an accountant, they may be a physician, they may be a therapist, they may be an attorney. The term also describes the standards of education and training that prepared that person for their professional life.

It includes the knowledge, skills, and competencies that are considered necessary to perform that role within that profession and most professionals are also subjected to codes of conduct and rigorous ethical and moral obligations. They have to get relicensed every couple of years do continuing education units are usually reinforced through recognized professional associations. You can have your license revoked, suspended, you can be fined, and sometimes it's your colleagues that are going to turn you in to your governing board. Many definitions of professional also refer to people who are serving in some role that is considered for the general good of society or an important aspect of public interest. This was the case, certainly historically for physicians, but a professional is a person who has been a member of a profession, who has been educated, trained, and really shaped I would say if I was being cynical, I'd say indoctrinated.

But you become shaped and trained to adopt a professional identity and to internalize the ethics, the obligations, the standards, and the way the job is done now. We'll speak about this in a few minutes, but many of the people that I've worked with loved being a professional. I loved being a professional. I loved being a licensed psychotherapist for years until I didn't. And many of the professionals I work with eventually reach a point where they feel like they are not adequately stimulated, adequately rewarded, or have the opportunity to exercise as much creative freedom in their professional role as they would like. These are the professionals that I think of as being entrepreneurial, and they are often the ones who go on to create some kind of an online business or a coaching or consulting role.

Now, what is an expert? Well, it depends on who you ask, but the definition according to the dictionary is an expert, is a person with extensive knowledge or ability that is based on experience, occupation in a particular area, research and all of the above experts can be called upon to give advise on their respective subject. For example, expert witness testimony in a court trial and different experts within the same field of study don't necessarily agree with one another. I have seen this many times across different jobs and career paths that I've taken where there are many qualified, competent, credentialed experts in a particular field who have widely different ideas about how things should be done. There is room within the community of experts for that these are very lively discussions.

Now, what is a thought leader, a thought leader is kind of a go-to expert, they are like the experts expert. It's a relatively new term, and some people throw shade on it. Some people think it is just business jargon, marketing jargon, just some sort of made-up thing to you know, satisfy people's narcissistic and grandiose fantasies about themselves but I couldn't disagree more. A thought leader is really a person who consistently answers the biggest questions in the minds of their target audience on their particular topic of interest. Thought leaders are usually asked to speak as keynote speakers. They speak at public events, they're asked to speak at conferences, webinars, TED stages, and so forth. Because it's not just a matter of being an expert in an acknowledged body of work, an acknowledged field of expertise, but they also think differently. I usually think of the categories of, they either have new solutions to old problems or old solutions to new problems.

So, if you're kind of struggling with, well, am I an expert or a thought leader, ask yourself, does what I do fit into either of those categories. I think of thought leaders as the people who are the most entrepreneurial of the experts. That doesn't mean they're going to end up running a big company but if they consistently experience the fact that they are more creative, they are more original, they are more out of the box, and they're simply able to consistently shed new light on problems that the rest of the, and I'm using air quotes, experts in their field, continue to struggle with in the same old ways. You're not necessarily taking anything away from other experts, but you are identifying yourself as a person who is a bit of an outlier among experts.

Now, someone I have a lot of respect for, she's a contributor to the Harvard Business Review, and someone who is thought of by many as a thought leader is Dorie Clark. Dorie Clark defends the phrase thought leader because she thinks it applies to certain people who are experts of experts, but she does acknowledge that it is kind of gross when you call yourself a thought leader. It can sound a little bit egomaniacal so if you are on the thought leader path, if you are an aspiring thought leader or someone who is developing a body of work and other people refer to you as their go-to expert, and you realize even people with much more experience in your chosen field than you are seeking out your opinion or inviting you to speak, chances are even if you do not self-identify other people think of you as a thought leader.

So why does any of this matter and why am I devoting an entire podcast episode to talking about it, well, good question. I have spoken about this on a number of occasions a little bit of frustration in the fact that the term expert has really been, it's really evolved in the last few years. It has gone from the definition that I shared with you a moment ago, a person who has extensive knowledge and ability based on research, experience, education, occupation in a particular field, to basically being somebody who knows a little bit more than the person they're trying to help and I disagree with that. I think there are genuine experts in every field doesn't necessarily mean they're the ones who have the most experience because, I'm sorry, but some people, in fact probably a lot, get to a certain point of mastery early on in their career, and they stay there. They don't build on it. They don't evolve. They don't expand. They're doing the same things 30 years later that they learned three decades ago.

I don't consider those folks experts, they may be professionals right. So if you have left a profession or are considering leaving a profession and you're really enticed by the idea of developing your own business, based on your body of work, based on your knowledge, based on your expertise, like many of the clients I have worked with in the last few years, some things I want you to consider are this not every person who might work with you in the gives two hoots about your credentials. It's true. In fact, I even changed this on my website a couple of years ago. I used to have all my professional training and background and licensure and credentials and you know, all of that. Now I actually have a link that says, click here to review my credentials basically for the people who care about that because what I learned was not everybody cares.

Not everybody who choose to work with me care that I have extensive credentials and expertise, but some of them do and some of them care that you have it. So if you are a physician who has decided to leave your profession and do health, or anything else for that matter, I would recommend that you continue to include the information about your former profession and the expertise you developed in it as part of your branding, part of your marketing, part of your credentialing, because it's part of your credibility. An expert has credentials, has a reputation, has demonstrated experience and expertise and all of those things have credibility not with everybody, but with many of the people that will choose to hire you. There's plenty of health coaches out there. Some of them took a weekend course and are selling their services.

Some of 'em haven't taken any courses at all, some people their credibility is personal experience, and if you've ever been to a reputable physician, someone that is highly regarded, maybe you were referred to, maybe they've got terrific reviews online, everybody talks about them in such glowing terms, and you found them to be a complete dud, or you didn't feel seen or understood by them at all. And their 67 page CD did not impress you in the slightest because you didn't make a personal connection with them, or I should say they didn't make a connection with you. Whereas the health coach, who may not have any training, any credentials, any certifications, but has walked the walk of the very struggle you're having now in your health, that may be just the kind of credential that you need. This is something that is very frustrating to a lot of people who left a professional career to go into the coaching field, but it is an unregulated industry.

So there are people who have lots of credentials and lots of education and lots of experience and lots of expertise, and some people who have very successful businesses based on their personal lived experience because they're coaching people who are having that experience now. It is one of the beautiful things about unregulated industries. Now, are there people who overstate their qualifications? You be are there people who are working with people and in a capacity that they shouldn't be? You betcha. Are there people who are going beyond their scope and doing things they are not trained and qualified to do? You know that but that was also somewhat true in the professions.

There is something called off-label use, many people don't know about this, I happen to have a lot of medical background, so I know that there are many doctors past, present, and I'm sure in the future who will prescribe a medication to a patient for something it's not even approved by the FDA to treat, and it's within their scope of professional practice to do that. It's called off-label use. In an unregulated industry like coaching, there isn't really any off-label use because there is no really truly agreed upon and enforced set of competencies. Now, I know there are big organizations that are trying to create that, trying to insist on that happening, we're not there now. Don't know if we will be, but if you happen to be a genuine expert or a professional who is going into coaching or consulting? There will be people who will choose you because of your background.

They don't necessarily wanna work with a physician or an attorney or a psychotherapist, but they want to work with a coach who was one of those things, why? Well, it's what I mentioned previously, when you have gone through a rigorous educational path, when you have gone through a rigorous training path with supervised hours and more experienced professionals overseeing everything that you do. You have to take exams, you have to get relicensed even though they may not want a physician or an attorney or a therapist, they want a coach, a business coach, a health coach, a relationship coach. They just wanna know that you are a person who has submitted to an extensive, lengthy, rigorous set of qualifications because in their mind that makes you more credible.

Now I wanna talk about the term thought leader, because I find this is something that really kind of messes people up. I've spoken about this on the podcast before and I'm sure I will again, because I see the most imposter syndrome in the most highly qualified people. In fact, the least qualified people are usually very confident. It's just a kind of an ironic thing, but when I'm working with someone and they say, I have this body of work, I have this expertise, I'm coming out of this profession. I don't want to be regulated by the government anymore. I don't wanna have to do continuing education units every other year anymore. I don't want to have to buy malpractice insurance anymore. I don't want to only be licensed in the state that I'm in and only be able to work with people in that state and honestly, that is usually the number one reason why therapists, physicians, attorneys, and all the rest, why they want to become coaches, consultants, and online business owners because they want to broaden their reach.

, I think it's really dumb in:

So you have to have the ability to go deep and long term in a relatively narrow area. If that sounds like a sentence, if that sounds like, oh, that's way too confining then you are probably on the expert path. Now, why does it even matter? Can't you change your mind? What's the big deal? I think of it this way when I start working with someone who's coming out of one of the professions or who has been an academic and they say, I wanna work for myself. I wanna start my own business. I want to share my body of work with more people, and I want to have a more flexible lifestyle, that's kind of the typical incentive, the typical motivation. Some of the first questions I'm asking them are, do you see yourself as an expert or a thought leader? Most of the time they say neither, and then we have to have a little chat about that because some of the smartest people I know and the most experienced and the most knowledgeable and the most well-educated people I know are a little humble, but it also has a deeper root.

A lot of the skills I help them acquire in the coaching engagement are related to their identity transformation. In some cases, it's an identity crisis. I'll be honest with you. I really underestimated what a big change it was gonna be for me to go from being a licensed therapist to being a business strategist and coach and it actually took several years. A lot of that has to do with the fact that we are indoctrinated in the professions to these codes of conduct, these expectations, the oversight, we kind of police each other in a way. When you go into an unregulated industry, the freedom of it can feel a little scary and a little threatening, but you also are letting go of an identity and a certain status that you've become accustomed to. And most people, even though they want to step away from it, they do struggle a little bit to let it go.

In addition to that, most of the professionals and experts that I know, even once they have firmly committed to having their own business, are relatively uncomfortable with the following marketing, sales, negotiation and self-promotion of all kinds. And I'm gonna tell you, if you are self-employed, you are in sales and marketing it is simply necessary unless you're able to hire someone, outsource your sales and marketing or spend a great deal of money on Facebook ads, Instagram ads, TikTok ads, LinkedIn ads, whatever platform you're connecting with people on. And you know, I think getting your mind wrapped around your new identity and addressing the reluctance to claiming expert or thought leader status, that's a mindset thing.

That is something I help all of my clients with but choosing whether they are an expert or a thought leader means if you're an expert, you can promote your business online. You can have a podcast, one of my favorite clients of a couple of years ago is a physician who left hospital work and is now a medical consultant has a wonderful podcast, and that was how she's demonstrating her thought leadership as a physician leader, through her podcast. Others have decided to have a blog, TikTok channel, YouTube channel or other avenues, but content creation on a regular basis is often going to go hand in hand with someone who is a professional who's creating an expert business online, thought leaders are probably going to need to go a little bit of a different route.

It's not saying that they shouldn't have any presence online, they shouldn't have any presence on social media or be content creators, but it's gonna be more important for them to leverage their professional network to get speaking engagements, to be invited to lecture, to teach, to present at conferences, to publish, and to have a body of work that other people can refer to and talk about them as a thought leader. I wouldn't say that there's more marketing involved with the expert business than there is with the thought leader business, it's just a different kind of marketing. Now, if you are a professional who has an extensive professional network, you already have a lot of people who think of you as a thought leader and would immediately go into action to help you get speaking gigs and teaching gigs and all kinds of gigs, then you probably are already on your way to a thought leader business.

If you don't mind the idea of marketing yourself, combining all the advantages of your professional background with a specific marketing strategy that leverages your strengths, then that's your path. But I do think it's something that we need to usually figure out pretty quick. Now, I'm gonna talk about, briefly before we wrap a woman that I've been working with for the last couple of years, and she is a scientist and health coach, and she's got all kinds of certifications and credentials in functional medicine. And she was referring to herself as a and the more training she got and the more education she got, the more expertise she got, the more of a body of work that she created that other people knew about and were attracted to her to find out more about, the more I saw her moving from coach to expert to thought leader.

One of the things that we talked about and she needed to make a decision on is, was she willing to pull back somewhat from her client focused work because the more of a thought leader you are, the broader your reach, the more people you have the opportunity to influence. But if you're very, very attached to working with people one-on-one or in small groups, much more intimate settings, that's something that has to be very clearly defined for a thought leader, because the thought leader path is a much bigger stage, potentially a world stage. You can continue to be a professional and an expert as a thought leader, but the thought leader is the person who gets the biggest reach, the biggest range, and works predominantly through influencing other people and being referred to and acknowledged as a thought leader by others. Now I did have a couple people tell me, oh yeah, I think I'm a thought leader and you know, after a few questions, I realized they just really didn't wanna market themself.

So they thought, well, if I can just get other people to say great things about me, then I don't have to market myself, that's a little more complicated than that. It's really interesting how many people are really, really reluctant to market and really see it as something they can't do. It's hard, it's uncomfortable, but I always think of it as a matter of tapping into their goals. Why are they making this change? Why do you want to get out of your professional practice? Why do you want to leave your medical practice, your law, practice your position as a professor? Why do you wanna leave it, usually it's for work life integration, stage of life, disillusionment, disappointment, having an uncomfortable or hostile work environment, not getting the promotion or the tenure you were promised, and believing that with everything you've learned and everything you know, and everything you have to offer, that you are better off betting on yourself, and I would agree.

There are people who do very well in the professions, who do very well in academia until they reach a point where they recognize they're too much of an outlier, they're too much of an outsider, they're too much of a thought leader to continue to grow and thrive within the container that they've been in and that's when they make their break. These are some of the most rewarding coaching and mentorship agreements that I have because I love helping really smart people, really expert people and people who think differently, get their message in front of more people and change more lives. So even if this didn't apply to you, I hope it was worthwhile for you to listen to because if you hear these terms, expert, professional, thought leader and you think you know what they mean, and I have helped you recognize it's a little bit more than what you thought, then it has been a worthwhile thing to know. So, thank you for joining me, I look forward to sharing with you the next guest expert interview in just a week's time. Until then, stay driven.