This week, I had an amazing conversation with a young colleague in the marketing industry. The person was frustrated. They were an expert in the industry with years of incredible results. However, they were often overlooked when it came to opportunities for speaking, advice, or attention from leaders.
At 40 years old, my authority came much later than many of the recognized leaders within the marketing landscape. The reason is relatively simple – I was a hard-working, productive employee that enabled the leaders of the businesses that I helped gain authority. I developed industry reports that made it into books and keynote presentations that had their name on it. I started businesses that I wasn't named founder of. I watched as the people I reported to were promoted and paid well, while I worked my butt off for them. Many of them are quite wealthy.
I'm not blaming them. I'm appreciative of what I learned watching them. In fact, I'm good friends with many of them today. But throughout my career, I was waiting to be recognized as an authority. The ultimate lesson that I finally learned after watching them was that they became authorities because they never waited to be recognized. They took their authority.
Don't misinterpret that as they took it from me. No, they took it from the industry. Recognition didn't come first, it came after. They were unstoppable in gaining the spotlight. When there was an event to speak at, they played hardball to get the best time slots, and they made sure to promote… even over promote their involvement. When there was a panel discussion, they dominated it. When they saw an award opportunity, they submitted it. When they needed testimonials, they asked for it.
Authority is taken, not given. Only recognition is given. If there's one thing to learn from the Trump and Sanders campaigns, it's this. No one in the mainstream media nor the political establishment ever wanted these two candidates to be in the running. The candidates didn't care – they took the authority. And in turn, the public recognized them for it.
A colleague of mine recently publicly criticized Gary Vaynerchuk publicly. It wasn't constructive, he just dislikes his style and Gary's message. He's since taken down the post, but I only added one comment: Gary Vaynerchuk doesn't care what you think. Gary isn't waiting to be recognized by this industry leader, Gary took it. And the expansion of his authority and his firm are evidence that the authority is deserved.
So here's some advice that I'd like to give people who are both talented and frustrated:
- Be selfish – I don't mean to take from others nor do I mean quit helping others. You have to have an impressive track record to build your authority on. But you have to take time out from your work, and make it a point to work for yourself. Think of your future authority as a retirement account. You can't retire unless you sacrifice today. The same for your authority. You're not going to build authority unless you invest time and effort today. If you're working 100% of time on your employer or clients, you're not investing anything in yourself. Don't expect recognition. Go work on your next speech… even if you have no audience yet. Go write a book. Go start a podcast. Go volunteer to be on a panel. Go strongarm an event to have you speak. Now.
- Be bold – Communication is difficult, mastering it is critical. I use declarative statements backed up by my experience. I know what I'm doing and I state so. I often command meetings (not just because I hate them) because I don't use terms like maybe, I think, we could, etc. I don't mince words, I don't apologize, and I don't back down when challenged. If someone does challenge me, my response is simple. Let's test it. That's not because I think I know everything, it's because I'm confident in my experience.
- Be honest – I don't guess at what I don't know. If I'm challenged or asked my opinion on something that I'm not sure of, I defer the conversation until I do some research. You sound a lot more authoritive saying, “Let me do some research on that, I don't know.” or “I have a colleague that specializes in that, let me check with her.” than trying to bumble your way through a response where you attempt to sound smart. You're not kidding anyone when you do. If you're incorrect, the same goes… admit it and move on.
- Be different – Everyone is different. Trying to fit in will absolutely make you fit in. You'll be hidden amongst every other person that lacks authority and recognition around you. What's different about you? Is it your appearance? Your humor? Your experience? Whatever it is, take it up a notch as you present yourself to others. I'm not tall, I'm fat, I'm gray-haired… yet people listen to me.
- Be alert – Opportunities are all around you. You have to constantly be alert to them. I respond to almost every request made directly to me to be on a podcast or provide a quote for an industry article. I seek out opportunities on journalism request services. I submit comments challenging articles I disagree with or providing additional color when articles are incomplete.
- Be fearless – Being an authority doesn't mean you're liked by everyone. In fact, by putting yourself out in front of others you will absolutely be a target of those that disagree. If I listened to everyone that disagreed with me my entire life, I would have gotten nowhere. If I tried to be liked by everyone, I'd be admitted into a psych ward. I often share the story of my own Mom. When I started my business, her first remark was, “Oh Doug, how will you get health insurance?” Sometimes you even have to prove the ones you love wrong.
Ultimately, the key to authority is that you are at the wheel of your future, not anyone else. You absolutely deserve the authority you believe you have… but you can not sit back and wait for others to recognize you until you take it. Once you make the investment, you'll be recognized. And when you're recognized by others – even criticized – you're on your way.
I attended a presentation from the amazing Ellen Dunnigan (her firm, Accent on Business, recorded the video on this post) and she provided a series of tips on building authority. It requires that you be both deliberate and intentional in your approach to every opportunity to command authority. I'd highly recommend you following Ellen's firm on social media and Youtube, you'll learn a ton! Hire her firm and you'll be transformed.