Do you have that person in your life who is the authority on everything? I’m not talking about the know-it-all in your life; rather, I’m talking about that person who thinks because they declare something, so it is?
Here’s an example: I have a friend who would constantly say, “Well, that’s what I would call ___________.” He thought because he named the circumstance, behavior, or activity that everyone else would fall in line with what he called it.
Most often I find this to happen in people who are experts in their particular field, and they are used to having the authority to make such declarative statements. Sometimes they find it hard to let go of that authority in other areas. Unfortunately, some people who become popular in an area where they aren’t really an expert also believe they they can use their social authority to make similar declarations.
I was listening to a popular blogger and podcaster recently who made one of these statements about Authentic Leadership. I understand what he was trying to do, but what he may not realize is that Authentic Leadership is a legitimate area of study that scholars have already declared and given conclusions. He used his popular authority to speak about something that has scholarship behind it.
During my PhD studies in leadership, I have learned a significant amount about leadership theories and what they look like in application. As a leader who has worked in public, private, and nonprofit agencies, I am also acutely aware of how leadership theory is used in various settings.
None of that gives me the right to tell an auto mechanic that whatchamacallit is now the name of the thingy that makes the whirring sound when I turn my key. Even if I own a bunch of cars, I don’t have the authority to make declarative statements about something that falls outside of my expertise and already has established scholarship attached to it.
Be an expert in your field of expertise. When you’re playing the role of expert in another field, you are creating a few problems.
- You are confusing people who are studying those fields through scholarship. Because of your social influence, people will believe you and feel like they are missing something some new research.
- You are devaluing the experts in that field. Historians are historians because of the years of research, education, and work they’ve done in the field of history. If I claim to be a historian because I’ve watched every documentary on the Roman Empire, I am taking away from the nuance of historical study the real experts have done.
- You cause people to doubt the real experts, and that can lead to people reaching dangerous conclusions. For instance, I can stand up and deny climate change is a real thing. People who see me as an expert in leadership and social issues will believe me because of that. Now we have people who aren’t recycling, reducing their carbon footprint, or promoting cleaner practices because they believe me over the climate scientists who know what they’re talking about.
Again, I encourage you to be the expert in your field, but let the other people be the experts in their fields. Use your social status and influence to point people to the experts and support what they are saying.