Think you’re not an expert? Think again. This episode is all about helping you to discover the inner expert and unleash your influence.
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Think You’re Not an Expert? Think Again!
About this time last year, I sent an email about George Floyd.
It was nothing more than an invitation to a conversation about race, entrepreneurship, and understanding people.
That was it.
And yet…I got a bunch of emails telling me that I was “not an expert” on the subject and to “stay in my lane.”
Ironically, I wasn’t claiming to be an expert (and in fact, declared that I was not) and was acknowledging that I was out of my lane.
And I COULD have crawled into my shell and not held that conversation.
I COULD have read those emails and decided they were right.
I COULD have listened to the critics and naysayers…
Isn’t that what we usually do?
Decide that we aren’t the expert and stay silent on what matters?
Decide that we don’t have letters behind our names or fancy paper on the wall…
…and let that stop us from sharing our message?
This isn’t about George Floyd, race, or any of those things.
It’s about attitude and belief.
It’s a reminder that you don’t have to be an expert to make an impact and build a successful business.
“You don’t need a title to be a leader.” – Multiple Attributions
“Leadership is influence.” – John C. Maxwell
the position or function of a leader, a person who guides or directs a group.
The word leadership has a lot of misconceptions. We think of business leaders, who dazzle us with their innovations and their ability to build billion-dollar companies from scratch. We think of politicians who navigate nations through challenging times such as wars, economic depressions, or catastrophic natural disasters. And we often think of parents, teachers, and bosses, who have a significant edge over their followers in terms of authority, experience, and credentials.
In short, we think of leaders as older, smarter, more qualified, and deemed worthy of the title of “leader.” As a result, we shrink back from our own ability to lead. We diminish our own qualifications and consider ourselves unworthy of such a title. We play small.
But here’s the exciting and hopefully encouraging reality: You are a leader.
You are a leader because you’ve already been where your tribe (your followers) wants to go. As I shared in the last chapter, there is something that people are always asking you for help with. That means they see you as a leader. Or there is something that people tell you is really interesting about you. They consider you a leader in that area. Or there is a struggle you’ve overcome and now you can share with others how to overcome the same struggle. That, by definition, makes you a leader.
Who better to be the “person who guides or directs a group” (dictionary definition of leadership) than someone who has been there, done that? Who better to lead others struggling with a problem than the person to whom others are always seeking out for help? And who makes a better leader than someone who clearly has a passion for the subject matter and, in fact, makes it interesting?
No one. That’s why you are a leader. No one is more qualified to share your experiences, your failures, and your successes than you. No one can share your stories and tell them with the passion and enthusiasm that you can. No one who knows your subject matter fits your exact demographic profile just like you do.
That’s why the world needs your voice and your message.
DECLARATION: The world needs my voice and my message!
There might be someone else out there teaching the exact same thing as you. But he’s a 35-year old single male and you are a 54-year old married mother of three. There might be someone else out there who had the same struggles and overcame them in the same way, but she did so while happily married, living in a large, suburban home. You did so as a single mom working three jobs to make ends meet. Later, in Step Three, I’ll share some of the ways you can stand out and differentiate yourself from others in your niche, but for now, just know that there is literally no one else on earth who can impact the world quite like you can.
One Step Ahead
As I wrote earlier, you’ve already been where your tribe wants to go.
A common misconception I hear almost daily is that someone isn’t qualified to be a leader because they don’t have the degree, the letters behind their name, or because they don’t feel like they are “advanced” enough to be the leader. Since they aren’t a subject matter expert, they aren’t qualified, they think. And yet, when I think back to college, the only reason I managed to pass calculus was because my tutor was a graduate assistant. She had taken the same class just three years before. I could barely keep up with my professor, who had approximately thirty-two advanced math degrees and was, by all accounts, a genius. But I could relate to my tutor…because she was just ONE step ahead of me.
And that is the key to being a leader. You only have to be one step ahead of your followers.
Alan Thomas, who I mentioned early, doesn’t have any degrees in exercise science or nutrition. He doesn’t have decades of experience helping others lose weight. He’d be the first to admit that he’s only one step (maybe two steps by now) ahead of his clients. And they LOVE him for that!
He told me that almost every one of his clients says the same thing when they sign up for his coaching program: “Alan, the reason I signed up with you is because you know what it’s like. You aren’t like all the other coaches who’ve been healthy and fit since they were a teen. And you don’t intimidate me with a bunch of technical jargon.”
Alan struggled with his weight for years, but now he truly is an expert at losing the weight and keeping it off. Now he can lead others who are just like he was. He doesn’t need a degree, certification, or to have studied the subject for two decades to be an expert. He’s an expert because he gets results. That makes him a leader.
And that’s good news for you. You only have to be one step ahead of your avatar. Maybe you are at Step B right now and you don’t feel like an expert or a leader, but guess what? You can lead your avatar from Step A to Step B. You are an expert at that.
While you are on Step B, you learn how to get to Step C. Then you can lead your avatar to Step C. While you are on Step C, you learn Step D and lead your avatar there…and so on.
IMPORTANT NOTE: To be clear, this does not mean that if you have an advanced degree in your subject or you’ve been in your niche for twenty years that you can’t lead. You just need to approach the rest of this book and the way you communicate with a beginner’s mind. Additionally, there are fields where certification and documented expertise (a degree, for instance) are required, such as psychotherapy, the medical profession, etc. In my experiences, less than 1% of our students and clients fall into those categories, so I won’t spend much time addressing those fields.
A Better Place to Lead From
From a practical standpoint, being just one step ahead is a better place to lead from. You are more relatable and your avatar’s personal experience is fresher, like it is for Alan and like it was with my graduate assistant tutor.
Imagine for a moment that you are on a hike with a friend. And imagine that this friend is super fit. He’s the kind of guy who inexplicably wears biker shorts to a cookout. You don’t have to ask him if he does Crossfit, he’s already told you…six times…this week. For no particular reason, he always seems to smell like soup mix and jogs in place at stop signs. You’re three miles into the hike and you see your friend…two miles ahead. Jogging in place, of course, yelling at you to “Come on and watch out for the…” His voice trails off in the distance. Watch out for the what? you think.
Contrast that with another friend, who may or may not also be in great shape (it doesn’t matter), who hikes with you. She’s still ahead of you, still guiding you, still telling you to watch out for the…slippery rocks that she herself just walked through. Occasionally, she reaches back, grabs your hand, and helps you navigate the rough terrain.
Which of these two friends is a better leader?
We usually think we have to be the first friend to be a leader and build a following. We think we have to be two miles ahead of our avatar when we really only need to be one step ahead.
That’s why the following declaration is so important.
DECLARATION: “I only have to stay ONE step ahead of my tribe.”
Who am I?
A few years ago, I was interviewing a lady for our START mastermind. We only select a few members each year to join and they must do a personal interview with me as a last step before being selected. This lady was an amazing storyteller and had an incredible passion for helping parents just like her. She was the mom of two autistic children and wanted to help other parents with children on the autism spectrum. But there was one big problem: She didn’t feel qualified.
She told me all the reasons why she was the wrong person. She wasn’t a doctor. There were thousands of actual doctors out there who knew all the latest science on autism. They were qualified. She was “just a mom.”
She continued to list more and more reasons why she could never build a platform helping other parents with autistic children. If I hadn’t interrupted her, she might have gone on all day, but I did interrupt her with one question:
“Have you ever felt like killing your children?”
The question didn’t shock her. She wasn’t offended. She didn’t scold me for asking such a ridiculous and insensitive question. She immediately responded with “Yes. And I know many other parents who feel the same way.”
“Then share that with the world,” I told her. “Talk about your struggles and your daily life. You’re a great storyteller and you’ll have no shortage of stories to share. Use a combination of humor, frustration, and emotional stories to reach your avatar. You don’t need the letters or degrees or decades of research to share your story and the lessons that you are learning each day.”
Immediately, the cloud of confusion and despair lifted off of her. She began to list ideas and topics for videos, podcasts, and blog posts. She even came up with a name for her platform. All because she realized that she only needed to stay one step ahead of her avatar.
Before we go any further, we need to play a little game I like to call “Vocabulary Elimination.” There are two words you need to stop saying: “I’m just…”
Like the mother whose story I just told, we all have “I’m justs” in our lives. I’m just a mom. I’m just a programmer. I’m just a bus driver. I’m just ________.
I hear so many people say these two words and completely downplay their purpose to humanity. The reality is that you can change the world from any position in life. From any career. From any location. But not if you downplay the impact you can have.
Mother Teresa was just a nun from a poor country living in a place mostly forgotten by the developed world. And yet she never saw her role as just anything. Instead, she said:
By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world.
To the world! There was no thinking small in her.
Nelson Mandela was just a boy born the wrong race at the wrong time in the wrong country. His Xhosa tribal name, Rolihlahla, literally meant “troublemaker.” To a people for whom the meaning of names meant something, he could have been just that and nothing more, a troublemaker. But he never thought that way.
He could have been just a prisoner. As the years ticked by…one year, five years, twenty-seven years in prison, he could have identified himself as just another prisoner. But not Nelson. He left prison and became the president of a new South Africa, one that he would lead for five years. He would become a world leader and world changer.
You may already know the story of Michael Jordan, widely considered the greatest basketball player of all time. He was cut from his high school team as a sophomore. To put that in perspective, he was not considered good enough to be one of the 10-13 high school players on a single team in Wilmington, NC. Today, NBA teams are already scouting high school sophomores. Yet, he couldn’t make his high school team. So he was relegated to the junior varsity team.
But Jordan never saw himself as just a junior varsity player. He worked his butt off the summer before that season began and became the star player of the junior varsity team. Three years after he was cut by his high school team, Jordan was making the winning shot in the NCAA Championship game. Three years! Five years after being cut by his high school team, he was the third selection in the NBA Draft, on his way to one of the greatest careers in sports history.
Michael Jordan never saw himself as just anything. His vision was that he would be the greatest player in the world and no high school coach could convince him otherwise. No label could change his future.
Nelson Mandela had to suffer through 27 years of imprisonment but it never changed how he viewed himself. No label could change who he was and what he would achieve.
Mother Teresa had to beg for food and supplies in her early years in India but it never changed her vision of her purpose. She was never just a nun, she was a chosen servant of God. Nothing could diminish her impact, not even the negative thoughts or words from others.
Action item: Immediately eliminate the words “I’m just” in describing yourself. Focus on how your current role can change the world and how you can use your current situation to reach your full potential. In the exercises at the end of this chapter, I’ll share how you can replace these negative thoughts with positive, liberating truths.
You are not “just” anything. You are a leader. You have a message that matters and can impact the world from wherever you are.
Don’t ever forget that.
And when you ask the question, “Who am I to be a leader?” consider the famous words of Marianne Williamson:
Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone.
And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Who are you not to be a leader? You’ve been where your avatar is now. You’ve been where they want to be. Now, show them the way to get there. Lead them! Do not play small. As you step into and embrace your role as leader, it empowers others to do the same.
Who Says You Can’t?
As you embark on this new role as a leader and entrepreneur, there will be naysayers, critics, haters, and dream killers.
If you are like almost everyone I know, there is something you’ve always wanted to do, but someone talked you out of it. Someone told you that you’re not talented enough. Someone told you that you’re too old or too young. Too slow, too stupid, or too poor. And now, you’re left wondering what might have been.
Catherine Lanigan was like that. All throughout her young life, she considered herself a talented writer. Her teachers told her that she was gifted and maybe that she could make it someday as a writer.
So she entered college full of hope. She even registered for a senior level class in creative writing taught by a visiting professor from Harvard. When she wrote her very first short story for the class, the professor asked to see her.
He was the prototypical college English professor. He was 6′ 6″ tall, wore a tweed coat with elbow patches and horn-rimmed glasses. He also had the smug look of a tenured English professor (sorry if that is you, but I had three such professors in college and they all had a smug look).
Crushing the Dream
“Frankly, Miss Lanigan,” he began. “You’re writing stinks.”
He went on to berate her writing ability. He tore apart everything about her story.
According to Catherine, he told her that she was “fortunate” that he caught her in time. He said that her parents were wasting their money and that she needed to change her major. He then made a deal with her. Since she wanted to graduate with honors, he agreed to give her a B in the class if she promised one thing…
…to never write again.
She took the bargain and vowed never to write again. As she stood on the rooftop of her dorm that night, she burned her manuscript and declared that she would never again believe in dreams. “I will only deal with reality,” she said to herself.
Fourteen years later, everything changed, though. She noticed a group of writers one day at a hotel pool and approached them.
“I really admire what you do,” she said. “My secret dream was to be a writer.”
One of the writers replied with something so simple and yet so profound. “Is that right?” He said. “Because if you wanted to be a writer, you would be a writer.”
That’s the thing…writers write. Singers sing. Speakers speak. Inventors invent. Leaders lead. But someone told Catherine that she couldn’t be a writer…and she believed him.
She told this man that someone important told her that she had no talent, that she could never write.
“Who told you you can’t?” the man asked.
She told him the story of the tweed-coated, smug-looking professor. After hearing her story, the writer gave her his card and told her to call him if she ever wrote anything.
When she told him that she wouldn’t write again, he responded emphatically, “Oh yes, you will.”
She thought it over and decided that what one man said did not determine her destiny. It was just his opinion. So she wrote a book. She decided not to listen to that professor’s voice anymore.
When she sent it to the writer she met at the pool, he gave it to his agent, who told Catherine that she was “startingly talented.” She signed a contract and since then has written more than forty books, including Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile.
The sad part is that she lost fourteen years of living out her dream because she listened to one person’s opinion. Have you ever done that?
There Will Always be Naysayers, Critics, and Dream Killers
There will always be people telling you that you can’t do something. They will tell you that you can’t live your dream. That you don’t have the talent, the pedigree, the education, the connections, or the money. Those people are small-minded and not worth a moment of your time.
QUOTE: Dreamkillers, critics, and naysayers are small-minded and not worth a moment of your time.
Often, those people will be the ones closest to you.
In the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, Will Smith’s character, Chris Gardner, tells his young son not to dream too big and think he can play professional basketball. He tells him what people have told you and will continue to tell you.
In effect, he says: “Don’t dream. Don’t set your sights too high. Stick to what you know.”
Thankfully, he realizes how harmful his words are and says to him:
“Don’t ever let somebody tell you you can’t do something. Not even me. You got a dream, you gotta protect it. People can’t do something themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it. You want something, go get it. Period.”
Silence the Voices
Who told you that you can’t be an entrepreneur? Who told you that you don’t have the skills, the background, the education, or the resources to build a profitable business you are passionate about? Who told you that you can’t help others overcome their obstacles? Who told you that you can’t sell or that you can’t write, speak, or shoot videos? Who told you those things?
It’s time to silence those voices. Don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t do something. With the right training, dedication, persistence, and hard work you can do anything that you set your mind to do.
Don’t let anyone talk you out of your dreams or your calling.
For fourteen years Catherine Lanigan made a choice. She chose to believe that professor and it cost her fourteen years of a prolific and profitable career.
What you choose to believe is your choice. You decide. Make the choice today to believe that you can, to silence the voices that say you can’t, and to take the next step to being everything you are called to be.
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