I’m a huge fan of Fiona Tribe or aka @White_Owly who publishes tweets about people, brand and culture that go directly to the heart of what is wrong with organisations today. I love her tweets so much that I have to stop myself from retweeting her entire account and have jokingly referred to myself as being “White Owly’s Chat Bot” because of this.
Yesterday she wrote:
— White Owl (@white_owly) November 17, 2016
and then I lost the plot. I had a reaction to this tweet because it hit a nerve because of what had been building in the last couple of years. You can see how shouty I became. That’s serious.
I am tired of reverence given to “thought leaders” while doers & creators are in background DOING GREAT WORK & GETTING ON WITH IT.Notice how they’re not writing books?Not getting onstage?Not touting their business?How do we make THESE people visible?How do we LEARN from them? https://t.co/nSQzUXktWa
— Helen Blunden (@ActivateLearn) December 15, 2017
The response to this tweet was overwhelming. Recently I’ve deleted most of the social media apps on my phone and I couldn’t see the notifications on Twitter. When I got online, I was half expecting an all-out tweet war from people who disagreed with me – especially my peers who have written books themselves (they’re NOT the ones I was thinking about). The time away from Twitter allowed me to consider my reaction to this tweet and come back to it with a blog post to explain why it riled me.
For the last few years, I have been working as an independent consultant. In those years, I actively worked and networked with people outside my field of learning and development in an effort to understand the way people work, learn and connect across all aspects of industries, different tools and online communities. Before that, I have had over 20 years of experience in business and corporates working across different industries in all sorts of different roles in Learning and Development in Defence, Financial Services, Telecommunications, Insurance and the Community Services. I have worked as a full-timer, part-timer, contractor and volunteer.
The choice to go out on my own as an independent consultant was for me to take charge of my own career because I felt that I had something to offer and wanted to help people in organisations understand the value of personal and social learning. Working on my own these last few years has been an immense learning experience and what I loved about it was that I’ve had time and freedom to explore networks and people OUTSIDE of my own field in corporate learning and development. I’m glad that I have networks now that consist of all sorts of industries from health and medical, marketing, and the entrepreneur world thanks to social media.
However, the life of independent consulting is not all rosy. It’s a constant slog to find work and build credibility when around you, there is so much noise. My time working on my own, I have met many people in organisations and outside of organisations who are so talented, exceptional and unique individuals who have knowledge and skills that aren’t acknowledged or respected. Some feel that they don’t have a voice nor would be listened because of various reasons. They’re a “mother who’s been out of the workforce for some years”, they “haven’t gone to university” or can’t “use a computer” or prefer to be quiet because they feel that they “have nothing to share”.
Meanwhile, there are others who have spent years honing their craft, working in their field or endeavour determinedly, quietly and persistently. They are the ones who may be in their fields for many years, have respect from their peers and colleagues and people who admire and respect their work and thinking. Some of these people have also written books about their expertise, passions and hobbies.
These are not the people I have a problem with.
For the last couple of years, I’ve begun to tire of the self-claimed accolades of “thought leadership” and this concept that in order to gain credibility, respect and reputation in your field, you need to buy followers, Twitter lists, build email distribution funnels, you need to write one book or be public speaking on stage. Alternatively, pitch and submit articles to sites like Huffington Post and hope that they’d be published.
I’ve had a few people look at me in the eye, and tell me in a serious tone that I’m “not credible because I haven’t worked in business or written a book”. I’m aghast at their rudeness for their presumption, laziness for not doing their research and the poverty of their thought by following what social media marketers have told them about creating a formulaic and templated response to becoming credible or build a reputation in their field.
They call it “building scale to build a reputation and hence a business” – I just hear vacuous words.
Why ‘build scale’ when you can be doing so much more like ‘creating impact’ or ‘making a difference’.
Why is it about you claiming you’re a thought leader – and not about what you have helped others achieve? Or made some positive change in the world around you?
Your credibility and reputation are built up through hard work and persistence to improve your craft in your field. It’s built on hard work and determination to master your domain of knowledge only to realise that you are NOT a master and more than likely, will never be. It cannot be bought, gamified or hacked.
There are no formulaic responses to “thought leadership” and indeed, writing your one and only book should not be the entire evidence of your body of work. Similarly, don’t claim yourself as a “best selling author” because you happened to reach over 50 reviews on Amazon.
I’m interested in redefining this and giving the voice back to the people. They’re the ones doing the hard work in the background. They’re not following the crowd, they’re not participating in the scuffle to get heard ahead or adding to the noise. However, that means having to change the way we place value on our work. That’s why I’m a great fan of building a portfolio of evidence of work and testimonials across different platforms and communities….not in just one physical form – a book that lays forgotten and gathering dust on a bookshelf.
If anything, I’d much prefer to immerse myself in the wonder of their work by these people. Show me their work, let me into their workplace, studio, laboratory and world. Let me interact with it. Let me learn how others have been impacted or inspired by their work.
Let others tell me about the value of your work, domain of knowledge or your craft through their stories of how you inspired them to improve their own practice. Now THAT’S credibility.
This blog post by Helen Blunden was written in Melbourne, Australia and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.