Expertise and Ego: Sometimes opposite sides of the same coin


Stephanie and I are building a business. What’s particularly interesting to us as we build our business is that we, ourselves, are part and parcel with the product and service that we offer. We create and deliver experiences that train people on the tools and skills of influence. When people meet us or attend one of our experiences, it’s definitely on our mind that the impression we’re making is one that will impact their perception of our product, our credibility and our business in general. Who wants to learn about confidence, for example, from someone who doesn’t present as confident themselves?

This may be obvious, but it’s fascinating the repercussions that reality has for how Stephanie and I consider somewhat random-seeming details with intentionality.

For example, as we were preparing to head to a conference where we were scheduled to deliver four professional development experiences for over 300 attendees, we discussed how this was an opportunity to show up intentionally, as the attendees themselves might be future clients. We discussed what we could do to be perceived as dynamic and credible.

We design our workshops to be filled with self-discovery and discussion, because that’s good learning design, but what it means is that Stephanie and I don’t necessarily have the opportunities to give long, impressive speeches that highlight to other people how we know stuff they don’t. We put the learning in our participants’ hands because we know they’re more likely to absorb the information that way than if they’re sitting there watching us drone on.

But perception is important... and as a growing business, it’s important that we show up as having expertise worth paying for. Expertise is, after all, an influence power source we all rely on.

...but ego also comes into play here, and we don’t want our personal desire to be perceived as experts to get in the way of a great learning experience for our participants.

We all walk through the world and recognize impressive people and thought leaders because they give TED talks or write books, and we nod our heads when they share great sound bytes that resonate with us. But they’re also talking at us. If Stephanie and I did that, it would be about ego and marketing, and not about the impact we’re trying to drive. We know that there are other relevant ways to build power and influence and while we might enjoy talking (we really do), it’s not the best way for people to learn.

In the end, we tried to find a balance. Perception is important and we need people to view us as thought leaders and experts in order to build future partnerships. But not at the sacrifice of the learning. We kept to our rule of no powerpoint slides (other than a lovely wolf & heron logo) and self-discovery ruled the day.

Where do you rely on your expertise as a source of power? What else could you rely on instead?

-- Kara Davidson, Cofounder, wolf & heron