Influence Without Expertise

An outstanding source of influence is a reputation for and track record of success as an expert in a given arena.  A wealth of credibility is earned when an individual is crowned by a community as the “go-to” person for information and results relative to a certain topic, process, or task. Leaders intent on making positive contributions in organizations and/or communities use the credibility and respect bestowed upon them for their specialization to motivate others to join them in the achievement of positive goals.

But what if you are a jack of all trades and master of none?

Here are three strategies a leader without a dominion over a niche can use to enhance personal influence.

Enlist the Help of Experts

In the absence of excellence in a particular subject your best move is to seek the help of those who know more than you do. If you choose this strategy beware of the self-proclaimed pro. The self aggrandizing expert is often not the top in her field. The best of the best are usually too busy applying their knowledge and skills toward the resolution of issues or advancement of opportunities to waste time broadcasting their greatness from every hill and soap box. Trying to align with the self-promoters in an attempt to ride their coat tails will not likely result in an improvement in personal influence levels. The outcome is typically a reputation as a sycophant. If your objectives are sound and you demonstrate a healthy amount of humility, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get the experts on board. Once they are engaged, give them plenty of space to perform that voodoo they do so well. In these circumstances, your role is to remove the obstacles that could stand in the way of their success. You’ll be amazed at how much gets accomplished.

The way you earn credibility and build up your influence with this strategy is to check your ego at the door and give the connoisseurs credit. Shine the spotlight on their accomplishments (especially if they are too modest to bring attention to themselves). In exchange for your selfless subjugation of ego, the experts will grant you open access to their treasure troves of information and capabilities. You’ll find that it is much easier to motivate people to follow you when they know you’re the person with access to valuable resources.

Be a Catalyst

A closely related strategy to enlisting the help of experts is to be the catalyst gathering together talented specialists. In order for this approach to succeed, you have to be able to cast a compelling vision for what could be produced through the collaborative efforts of these experts. You’ll have to carefully tailor your messaging to speak directly to the values and priorities of each pro you want to recruit. If you can’t find the link between your vision and an individual’s personal or business drivers, chances are there’s not a fit worth exploring. When actively building trusting respectful relationships with “the masters,” it’s best not to play a losing hand.

Once the right players are at the table, your job is to facilitate a process that taps into each of their specialties. Foster a collaborative environment closely focused on clearly defined objectives.

Malcom Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, speaks of the power of connectors. These are people with a gift for linking otherwise unconnected groups of people. Influence is the reward for this charismatic ability. Ron Burt, University of Chicago Booth School of Business Hobart W. Williams Professor of Sociology and Strategy,explains that this is a do it yourself proposition. You don’t become influential simply by connecting with the connectors. You must play the leading role. Influence is not awarded for playing best supporting actor.

Become The Expert

Of course, there is the option of increasing your level of influence and power by earning the distinction as an expert relative to a topic, process, or task. For the jack of all trades who has spent years circling high above the terrain, this means it’s time to land the plane. Plant a stake in the ground. Spend the time, energy, and money required to learn more than the average bear about something. If you choose this path, keep in mind a key factor almost all experts share—a passion for their subject. Spending your life in pursuit of excellence is far more fulfilling if you actually love what you’re doing and care immensely about the kingdom over which you’re striving to rule. Do not be confused about the order of operations. Influence is a by-product of expertise not the reason for it.

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “Influence Without Expertise

  1. I like the idea. I’m giving this a thumbs up.

  2. Sorry for the huge review, but I’m really loving the new Zune, and hope this, as well as the excellent reviews some other people have written, will help you decide if it’s the right choice for you.

  3. I like the perspective of this post. But from a theoretical point of view, isn’t being an expert where the real potential and value is? Eventually you have to agree higher specialization finds greater demand and yields higher returns.

    • Nicole De Falco

      Hi Eric, My focus tends to be on influence from the perspective of getting things done within organizations. You make a good point about the value of specialization. Expertise in a coveted field will certainly be in great demand. But, I do think within organizations, there are opportunities for generalists to reach equal heights.

      Over the last 20 years, I’ve come across some highly influential people who’ve built trust and earned credibility by virtue of their leadership abilities not necessarily from the authority that comes from being the expert in any one particular arena. They are the type of people who can move from company to company and industry to industry with ever increasing levels of success.

      I think inside of organizations, the ability to bring groups of talented people together, clear the obstacles from their path, and then coach them to perform to their full potential is, in and of itself, a certain expertise. It’s the “expert” leader.

      On the other hand, from a marketplace point of view, specialists seem to out achieve generalists. In the social media space, the prize is certainly going to the “rock stars” that can prove their mastery through how they’ve leveraged blogging, Twitter, and social networking to further their own careers.

      I’m always amazed at how, in the open market, being “the best” in one area grants people instant influence almost across the board. I think about Bono. He’s a fantastic artist. There’s no question about it. Look how he has been able to leverage the credibility he has in the music industry and with the public at large to get global leaders on board with the fight against AIDS.

      I appreciate your contribution to the conversation!

    • Nicole De Falco

      Here’s a completely different perspective on influence. It’s relative to Social Media. The point of view is that there are no “influencers.” What do you think? http://copywriteink.blogspot.com/2009/12/influencing-nothing-social-media.ht ml?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+copywriteink+ %28Copywrite%2C+Ink.%29

      Nicole De Falco Business Writing, Training Development, Group Facilitation Write Influence: Saying What You Mean ph: 847.275.5494 / fax: 847.628.0722 web: http://www.writeinfluence.com blog: http://sayingwhatumean.com Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ndefalco LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/nicoledefalco Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nadefalco

      • I checked out the post, but I strongly disagree with its thesis. I do not understand how individuals could not be considered “influencers”. Even if influence is marginal, limited, or short-lived, its still influence.

        (Also, you might want to fix the link for that post. The last .html is broken.)

        • nicoledefalco

          Eric, I had a hard time wrapping my arms around what he was trying to say. I usually agree with Copy Write, Ink’s messages–or at least understand where he’s coming from. This one had me furrowing my brow so I thought I’d put it out there to see what others have to say.

          Thanks for the heads up on the link too.

  4. I am no way an expert in anything maybe insurance. I now a little about alot but i surround my self with educated people that helps to be the go to person in my pffice. And most of my clients look at that as an added benefit of my services.

    • nicoledefalco

      Hi Don, providing opportunities for others to excel is a strong leadership skill. It’s probably the characteristic that most differentiates “leaders” from “managers.”

      Thanks for checking out the blog!

  5. As someone who is somewhat a “Jack of all Trades” I think I have found an expertise in there somewhere.

    What do you think it is? If you answer what I think, then I have it.

  6. I like your suggestions. Sometimes we do have specific expertize, but our situation requires us to be more of a jack-of-all trades. Employing what you’ve outlined could minimize our feeling undue pressure and frustration because of where we find ourselves. We can still play a vital role until our circumstrance changes.

    • nicoledefalco

      Hi Claire! It is amazing how much pressure we can put on ourselves when we start trying to be like others or aspire to talents that are either not within our natural skill set or, as you mentioned, not part of our current circumstances.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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