Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
May 28, 201411:18 PM

How To Be A Recognized Authority

Do you define yourself as an authority in your industry?

Does it really even bear repeating that if you're the only one who is recognizing yourself as an authority that you may, in fact, not actually be one? We see it all of the time. On LinkedIn, on Twitter bios, on Facebook, when individual's are being introduced to speak at conferences and beyond. I cringe. Not just for you... but for me as well. Have you ever had someone introduce you to present in front of a live audience? Maybe it's me. Maybe it's my inferiority complex at play, but it makes me feel so uncomfortable. It reminds me of when my mother would run into a friend and gush over whatever it was that I was doing at the time with me standing right there. Squirm! This is not about humility. This is not about ego. This isn't about getting two (or more) third party endorsements. This is about doing the work (the hard, hard work) and letting the accolades follow (from those others... the real authorities).

I don't know how to define who is an authority, but I know it when I see it.

There's a famous story of Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart's description of pornography. He defined it as: "I know it when I see it." Authority seems, feels and acts just like that as well. You can put whatever words that you want in a bio, resume or byline that pumps your tires, but unless everyone else who connects with you knows it... and feels it, it comes off as hollow (at best) and super-negative (at worst).

What can you do instead?

  • Be knowledgeable. But that's not enough. Be open to always sharing that knowledge.  
  • Be a problem solver. But that's not enough. Don't take credit for solving any problems, let your team take all of the accolades.
  • Be someone who knows and does the research. But that's not enough. Anyone can read and follow research. What's your take? What makes it unique? What makes it better than the person next to you? How have you implemented it successfully?
  • Be a leader. But that's not enough. Anyone can be a called a "leader" but to truly lead, you have to be someone admired and respected in your business, in your community and, yes, even with your family and friends.

Being an authority isn't much of a title.

I'm not sure why anyone would actually want to call themselves an "authority" verses letting other people use that term to describe them, but humans are a fascinating bunch. Fully recognizing that individuals may be wondering, "well then, what's a more interesting term to describe myself?" The only prudent advice I can offer, is to leverage media opportunities and the words of others. I would never call myself a "rock star," but my bio has this line it: "Marketing Magazine dubbed him the 'Rock Star of Digital Marketing' and called him, 'one of North America's leading digital visionaries.'" I don't feel like I'm peacocking by quoting what a credible industry trade publication wrote about me. And yes, the more credible and respected the publication, the better is it. The main idea is to let your bio be honest and true, and bulk it up with credible references. This way, you don't have to call yourself an authority, because it is abundantly clear just how credible you are based on what others (that may have more credibility) are saying about you. Don't believe me? Do you think Malcolm Gladwell is an authority? Of course, he is. Still, if you look at the back of his latest book, David And Goliath, you will see a slew of endorsements from notable thinkers and publications waxing poetic about just how authoritative Gladwell is. Social proofing. It's huge. Even for someone like Gladwell. He doesn't have to declare himself as one of the most popular and bestselling non-fiction authors in the world (which is he and could credibly claim). Even with his proven track record, having other media sources and individuals do it for him is the way he's going. If it's classy enough for Gladwell, it's probably relevant to you (and me) as well.

So, instead of calling yourself an authority, maybe it's better to focus on becoming one, and letting others bestow those words upon you?

By Mitch Joel