How to be a leader in your field

I just read a great piece by Phil Agre at UCLA about how to become a leader in your profession. It’s targeted at students in professional schools (med school, law school, business school, etc.), so it is very much about how to make a name for yourself even when you’re first starting out.

Many of these strategies are applicable online. I post it in particular because many people have the mistaken idea that becoming “slightly famous” is something that only freelancers, authors, speakers, etc., should do.

But as Agre points out:

“A profession is more than a job — it is a community and a culture. Professions serve society by pooling knowledge among their members and creating incentives to synthesize new knowledge. They also help their members to build networks, find jobs, recruit staff, find collaborators, and organize around the issues that affect them.”

In summary, his strategy is:

1. Pick an issue.
2. Start a project to study it.
3. Find relevant people and talk to them.
4. Pull together what you’ve heard.
5. Circulate the result.
6. Build on your work.

My favorite passage:

“In a knowledge-intensive world of ceaseless innovation and change, I assert, every professional must be a leader. This is not a universally popular idea. Some people say, “leadership is fine for others, but I just want a job”. I want to argue that it doesn’t work that way. The skills that the leader exercises in building a critical mass of opinion around emerging issues are the same skills that every professional needs to stay employed at all. In the old days the leadership-averse could hide out in bureaucracies. But as institutions are turned inside out by technology, globalization, and rising public and client expectations of every sort, the refuges are disappearing. Every professional’s job is now the front lines, and the skills of leadership must become central to everyone’s conception of themselves as a professional.”

via Duke Rohe via Renee Watase