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How to Obtain and Demonstrate Domain Knowledge as a Leader

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Domain Knowledge

Leaders with intellectual capacity have domain knowledge. As students and practitioners of leadership, we effort to become knowledgeable about leadership-related topics such as leadership theory and practice, management, leader development, human resources management, logistics procurement and management, organizational evaluation and change, information management, conflict management and engagement, et cetera.

Additionally, as leaders of an organization that provides a product or service (this is all of us), intellectually capable leaders are instructionally proficient regarding the concepts, techniques, practices, and operations associated with the provision of that product or service.

Obtain Domain Knowledge

Leaders establish and demonstrate domain knowledge through at least four activities: 1) education, educational credentials, and licensure; 2) experience and practice; 3) instruction and publication; and 4) networking.

1. Education, Educational Credentials, and Licensure. As both a method and a symbol, education, educational credentials, and licensure are universally acknowledged sources of some degree of expertise. In today's day and age, the ultra-accessibility of education, both online and at the local accredited community college, makes the attainment of a very good college education easily within reach for those determined. Similarly, much professional licensure has migrated online into some form of computer-based study, so at least some portion of licensure is usually easily accessible.

It is always important to note that, while an important component for establishing yourself as an intellectually capable leader with domain knowledge, a college degree and / or basic licensure by themselves do not make you an expert. Instead, you should consider these important prerequisites or co-requisites for experiential learning.

Finally, one must continue to learn beyond the degree and license. Intellectually capable leaders refresh, maintain, and grow domain knowledge by staying abreast of current developments in theirs and related disciplines, through periodicals, self-study, and further educational attainment - all in concert under the unifying concept of lifelong learning.

2. Experiential Learning (On-the-Job Experience and Practice). Nothing proves one's expertise like an extensive and successful history of on-the-job experience. As long as they remain current on industry developments, methods, and best practices, it is difficult to argue with the practitioner who has been successfully doing the job for decades. This is especially true in private practice; if a person is good enough to survive or thrive in small business, their credibility as a domain expert is increased.

Additionally, if you make a habit of 'championing' the difficult and unpopular issues, you may carve out a niche as the go-to guy / gal, an indispensable asset to the organization who can get any job done. This is a way to become known as a sort of expert in a very short period of time, and there is always job security for people who get the tough and dirty jobs done. You know these people; they have nicknames like 'the hammer' or 'the garbage man' or 'the closer'. It's much easier to become an expert in a skill or craft if you're the only one willing or able to do it.

3. Instruction and Publication. To understand a domain so intimately so as to be able to teach it or write effectively about it requires the next level of understanding and proficiency about your craft. Being able to perform your craft well is proficiency; being able to do it well, and explain how and why you are doing it well is mastery.

For example, I thought that I was a pretty good helicopter pilot before I went to the U.S. Army Blackhawk Instructor Pilot's Course. Perhaps I was, but that course forced me to consciously think about what I was doing in the aircraft, why I was doing it, and how to explain and teach those whats, hows, and whys to another individual; the result of this was that my skill as a pilot was elevated to a whole other level, one of instructional proficiency.

Similarly, writing about your area of expertise increases domain knowledge. To be able to organize one's thoughts in a logical manner, to be able to articulate what one knows but has never expressed in words; this is not an easy task at all, but it is a fruitful one. Not only does shared writing infer one's domain knowledge, but it also forces the writer to consciously think about those whats, hows, and whys of their craft, and both of these develop domain knowledge.

Instructional ability and publication about the theory, practice, and issues of one's skill or craft is a clear demonstration of domain knowledge.

4. Networking. In addition to your own personal level of domain knowledge, it is also very helpful to have a broad, established network of subject matter experts, leaders, managers, administrators, and staff, in yours and related disciplines. This network should be a positive, proactive, vibrant effort on your part to add value, and should serve your interests in two ways.

First, a broad network gives you access to more knowledge. The ideal solution is that you know the answer to your customer or supervisor's question or issue. A strong secondary position - if you don't know the answer - is to know the person who does know the answer, obtain the answer from them, and then turn and serve your customer or supervisor with that knowledge and vicarious expertise (with proper credit to your associate for the assist, of course).

Second, a broad network gives you a venue through which you can broadcast and advertise your activity, accomplishments, and special expertise. That way, when a network associate gets asked a question that they don't have the answer to, you will be the one who gets the call.


In summary, education and licensure, experience, instruction and publication, and networking are ways to create, grow, and demonstrate domain knowledge. This is an important dimension of the intellectually capable leader, and a serious undertaking by those of us who are committed to effective leadership.



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