Guru, Expert, Visionary, Futurist! Really?

Mr. Ron, I am an expert in XXXX. Titles used to describe me are Guru, Visionary and Futurist etc. I have worked in this field for close to 10 years in almost every capacity. Let’s set up a meeting to discuss how I can help you.

Yes, that was an actual call from a “futurist.”

Don’t believe the hype

There was a line in my favorite movie, The Godfather, when the heads of the 5 families got together. “How did things ever get so far?” Don Corleone asked. I feel that way some times when I see people branding themselves as experts or whatever. Like the social media expert who had less followers across channels than I do.

Granted we all strive to be the top of our profession. If we are speakers, bloggers etc., we are putting ourselves and our thoughts out there. Sometimes that voice expands and we get pulled in a lot of different directions. But my advice to anyone in that space, “Don’t believe the hype.”

Let the branding be done by others, not yourself. If someone intros you using some of those terms, take it in stride and do not dwell on it or take it at face value. I have always been apprehensive when I am introduced to an audience. It is almost like an out of body experience. I shared these feelings with the chair of a conference in Malaysia before he introduced me. And what did he do? He relayed the entire conversation back to the audience before reading a shorter version of the introduction. So much for sharing your thoughts.

Chest beating on steroids

With the advent of social media, everyone is clamoring for space; it is chest beating on steroids. I know that LinkedIn is your personal billboard and I understand that, but with all the self-hype it makes you wonder. Again, how did we come so far? There is a shortage of modesty these days, that is for sure. It seems like superlatives are the model of the day.

To borrow an expression, “In a world where everyone is an expert, nobody is an expert.”

As The New York Times explained it,

“Oscar Wilde is said to have defined an expert as an ordinary man away from home giving advice. Today, those words may be truer than ever. An expert, it seems, is now an ordinary person sitting at home, beaming advice over the Internet to anyone.”

The labeling of expert has taken a life of its own. We anoint ourselves and, voila, overnight we are identifying ourselves as such.

Don’t call me that

I have given close to a hundred speeches all over the world on HR and organizational and leadership issues. I write for a few magazines and blog constantly. But in NO WAY, would I consider myself an expert on anything. I am a person who is very passionate about what I do and I wear my profession on my sleeve. My thoughts and opinions are based on my experience working within organizations be they dysfunctional or functional. Those experiences shaped my thought process into what it is today. This is an evolving journey as I am constantly reflecting as I read, experience and discuss issues.

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I have heard of famous actors who say they never read the reviews and professional ball players who say they never read the recap or reviews of a game. And these two, very high caliber professions can surely wear the big E as in expert. But for the most, these professionals don’t believe the hype. My father’s favorite saying was “Do not get too big for your britches.”

Stay humble

Humble is described as having or showing a modest or low estimate of one’s importance. My rule of thumb is never to strive to be the “big shot.” Strive to be the self-effacing person who is not looking for the labels and the anointment. This prescribed journey will let you live a stress-free life as you do not feel that you are being measured by someone else’s yardstick. Be your own yardstick in life even if you have to make it up as you go.

What you will find is that life is fun and you look forward to doing whatever it is you enjoy doing and can do it for hours on end. No one has to tell you or confirm to you that you are indeed important.

Ron Thomas

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.