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5 Steps for Expanding Your Expertise to Become a Better Leader


By Patti Johnson

It’s not enough to be a great expert. Expertise only matters when you impact the world around you.

Many professionals aspire to become thought leaders or industry gurus, and we need such experts in our organizations. But becoming a respected thinker requires more than vast knowledge. You need to communicate your ideas effectively and influence others in a positive way. Without those components, the work of even the most brilliant minds goes to waste.

The empathetic expert

Being an expert means having deep intelligence in your field. But it also involves having a keen intuition for how your experience translates into good business counsel. True experts know when to share and when to listen. Those who have the biggest impact understand others’ concerns and adapt in a way that resonates. This ability to translate and listen is the key to an expert affecting the world around her. That’s why empathetic experts are so valuable — they help build a motivated, productive environment.

The best leaders and thinkers know how to mine their internal databases to achieve a specific goal. They don’t talk endlessly about what they know and what they’ve done. Instead, they use what they’ve learned to bolster the team’s efforts.

Here’s how you can expand your expertise to be a more effective leader:

1. Listen like a beginner

An expert is only as good as her ability to put her hard-won knowledge to use. Take time to understand what your community needs, and consider how best to apply your skills to the situation. Valuable experts focus on how they can be most helpful rather than showcase all of their wisdom regardless of relevance.

2. Simplify complex issues

The best experts distill tough topics into terms that everyone can grasp. They can cut through the noise to identify what’s most important for the business and provide unique insights on how to solve problems. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has been lauded for communicating confidently and translating in a way people outside Silicon Valley can understand.

3. Keep learning

Expert status isn’t a lifetime designation. Educate yourself regularly on how your field is evolving, and contribute to conversations about what those changes mean. Experts are constant learners, especially in the tech-driven business climate. Thought leaders lose significance if they don’t actively pursue new experiences and ideas.

4. Check your ego

View your expertise as a way to contribute to a goal, not to be the smartest person in the room. While it’s true that experts know more than most regarding their discipline, it’s easy to become overconfident or self-important. And that attitude prevents partnerships and effective collaboration. Be humble about what you know — and what you don’t know — and look for opportunities to serve others using your knowledge.

5. Cultivate communication skills

Your ability to communicate is your vehicle for sharing your insights. Richard Branson has often stated that he considers communication to be “an art.” He’s also emphasized that becoming a great communicator takes practice and work, comparing it to learning how to type or ride a bike. To grow as a communicator, you must routinely work to strengthen those skills. Practice giving compelling presentations, leading productive discussions, and thinking on your feet. If you struggle to make interpersonal connections, hire a coach to help you improve your abilities.


Experts must evolve constantly if they don’t want to become yesterday’s gurus. You maintain your relevance by practicing empathy and using your expertise to benefit others. Always keep in mind that great messages are amplified when experts listen before they preach.

Image credit: Flickr/Shinsuke Ikegame

Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and organizational development consultancy that she founded in 2004. She’s also the author of “MakeWaves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life.” She and her team advise clients, including PepsiCo, Microsoft, 7-Eleven, Accenture, and Frito-Lay, on creating positive change in their leaders and organizations. Follow Patti on Twitter!

3p Contributor

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