Are you sweating minor stuff, drifting through each day or majoring on what really matters, firmly on your planned way to being an authority in your field?
Are you an Authority (Audio)
What might you be considered an authority in? Who do you look up to because they are an authority in their chosen field? What did they do to become that authority? Who says they are an authority and on what grounds? What would it take to become an authority in your chosen field? How far do you think you are away from being that authority?
What does it take to being an authority?
Wikipedia suggests the word authority is derived from the Latin word auctoritas meaning invention, advice, opinion, influence or command. In English, the word authority can be used to mean power given by the state (in the form of Members of Parliament, Judges, Police Officers, etc.) or by academic knowledge of an area (someone can be an authority on a subject).
In the context of this blog, the definition for authority figure, which says: “a person whose real or apparent authority over others inspires or demands obedience and emulation“ comes a little closer to what I had in mind. Another definition is “the power derived from opinion, respect or esteem” which is almost there.
In the context of this article there is also a fine line between being an authority and being an expert. An expert is defined as someone widely recognized as a reliable source of technique or skill whose faculty for judging or deciding rightly, justly, or wisely is accorded authority and status by their peers or the public in a specific well-distinguished domain. An expert, more generally, is a person with extensive knowledge or ability based on research, experience, or occupation and in a particular area of study. Love it. Perhaps by that definition I should have titled this “are you an expert”?
I did like the one that suggested it is folks who can take stuff (ie skills, abilities, access, connections, ideas, or talents) that you have, that we all have, and transform it into something useful and valuable that other people want?
In his book “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell suggested that to be “considered good at something” you would have had to devote over 10,000 dedicated hours to it. At 40-50 hours a week, that would equate to about 4-5 years. I am unable to find that reference, but read somewhere that this time frame would also be about right to be considered “full bottle” or approaching being an authority over something.
My definition of being an authority
And so I believe that someone who over a respectable period of time has accumulated (and implemented) a wealth of knowledge, wisdom, experience and results on or with a topic or area of interest; who openly shares that with others in order to build on it, so that he or she is considered to be sufficiently “full bottle” on it and its application in life and in business in order to command respect and acknowledgement which that position has earned, comes closest to that authority I want to talk about today.
I had to smile when I saw the quote from Albert Einstein: “To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself” which to me beautifully differentiates two aspects of the word – one where authority is the institution and the other where the individual has become an authority in his or her field of endeavour.
Academic or practical?
In the above definitions there is reference to sufficiently acquired academic knowledge serving as the basis for being considered an authority. Whilst that may well be relevant and applicable in many specialist knowledge situations, I do believe that the more valuable than just the academic side of it is to be found in its application and fine-tuning; drawing the lessons learned from the actual experimentation and making it work “in the field” to deliver the anticipated outcomes, usually in a business context. I prefer authorities in their field who, to my way of thinking take the academic “theory” and convert it into real tangible life and business runs on the board, failing along the way, creating some scars on our back until we achieve what we set out to as per our vision. I see the recognition accorded such real life performance results to be truly valuable.
Becoming the authority in something
This week I was networking with an associate who shared a huge passion with me in the context of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi outlined in his book “Flow”. Citing a number of examples where he had made these principles work very successfully with some of his clients, particularly in the sports management and business performance arena, we were talking about how he might develop that theme professionally and expand its visibility and also its application towards a wider business audience.
Interestingly, earlier the week I had been talking to another associate about how much value “older and more mature” people in business could add to the companies they run or work in, by sharing their experience and “scars on their back” in a way that the younger generations would be inspired by (rather than having them “roll their eyes” at another “lecture”). I have held and expressed this view many times that the younger generation loves to read and listen to blogs and material expressed in other “social media”. It appears I still need to find a way to make it more compelling for this “older generation” to want to share their experience and wisdom via these media forms, because so far it hasn’t been seen enough (yet).
My earlier associate saw the benefit of accumulating and sharing his knowledge, skill and experience with his target marketplace and audience, but didn’t think he was Good enough at “writing”. I asked him if he could set a goal of publishing a thought from his field every day for a year via Twitter and Linked-In for instance, which he didn’t see a problem with at all. You see, after a month that is already 20-30 thoughts, which is easily one or two blogs. That forces you into the discipline of doing something each day and in time you have a formidable collection of knowledge you can draw on for many different purposes.
5 years ago now I made the commitment to write and publish a blog article from my work each week. There are now over 200. Now while that doesn’t make me an authority, it certainly goes quite a long way towards that, crystalizing learnings or insights from each week’s work with my clients and making it available to a broader audience. Over time this collection of learnings developed into an enhanced wisdom on a wider scale and allows my clients ready reference to all that experience from hundreds of people, leaders just like you and me over life, work, business, abundance thinking and constraints thinking, what works, what doesn’t, what matters and what doesn’t. Having set the goal this year 2012 to draw that all together into one or more books is now at the stage of manifesting – watch this space.
It takes time to…
So my view about becoming an authority in a chosen field is about time, endurance, perseverance, resourcefulness, stickability, staying power, Visibility and Dancing until it rains. Always doing the right things, staying on track towards your Vision and remembering What is your purpose? Until you read or hear about someone referring to you as an authority in that field. In my case I have been on this particular coaching journey in earnest now for 6 years, so according to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, if I’m not there yet, I must be close, right?
Last week I wrote about Arrogance, Aggression & Assertiveness and was somewhat critical of overly arrogant behavior. I dislike the behavior of some authorities in their field with the attitude suggesting “I know; I’m the expert; that’s the way it is; take it or leave it”. My preference is to outline what I have found or learned towards or about something, stating the way I believe it or see it to be, but to leave plenty of room for that to be challenged or enhanced by additional or different perspectives so that together we hopefully achieve an even better outcome.
Steve Jobs recognised how people could, should and would prefer to use technology “intuitively” and he became an authority on that. He made it his “life’s work”, and those of you that have read his biography will know he took it to the point of obsession, where he would easily be classified as aggressive in many of his approaches and dealings.
By the way, I love that term “life’s work”. It gives purpose and meaning to what we do. No sweating over the minor stuff and drifting through life dealing with what each day serves up– it’s all about majoring on the major stuff that really matters, always with the big picture in mind like a beacon towards what we really want. Quietly but assertively driving to the end goal until suddenly people notice and acknowledge the emergence of another authority in their field. A great recognition worth striving for, don’t you think?
You see to me becoming an authority in my chosen executive life coaching, grooming and mentoring field isn’t just about what that can do for my business. It’s just as much about what it means to me about who I am, who I am becoming, who I am growing into as I live my journey to be the best me I can be. And it’s very much about what it can help do for you and for my clients in your and their quest to who they want to be and become.
So why don’t you have a think about your “life’s work” and check in with yourself what you may already be an authority in or what you might be on your way towards becoming an authority in?
What could you focus on that would build on all the magnificent things you have already achieved, shaped and learned and allow you to develop into “mastery”? One or more that others would acknowledge you to have become an authority in?
And if that “stock take” were to suggest that you are still a “life generalist”, what might you want to get passionate about making a difference in? Go on, what if you could?