As a "young" professional, I sometimes find myself frustrated when someone says, "He/she has 42 years of experience, they know what they are doing." Another example of this is when a professor of mine in graduate school said, "A requirement of being an executive coach is having gray hair." As a member of Generation Y focused on results, I think I find this frustrating because working for 42 years in one field or having grey hair doesn't necessarily mean you have accomplished anything.
There is something to be said though, about the need for leaders to have expertise in their field, which can be obtained through tenure in a particular role. I have a lot of respect for one of my colleagues that has been in economic development for many years (she started when she was still in diapers :). She is what I call "the source of all knowledge" and one of the keys to her gaining this title is her tenure in the field. However, I think there is value gained in considering different ways to gain expertise in an industry or role beyond aging with your role.
All of these things center around the desire for lifelong learning. Here are some ways to gain expertise outside of just biding your time in a particular role or industry:
1. Have a passion for what you do. If you don't have a passion for it, you won't have a desire to learn more about your industry and gain relevant experience necessary for expertise.
2. Study what you do. Read, read, read about your field whether it be through books, trade journals, blogs, online newsletters, etc.
3. Network with those in the field. This can be done through professional societies and through professional social networking through LinkedIn. Join groups through LinkedIn relevant to your field.
4. Learn by doing. This does not necessarily need to be in a educational or professional setting. I recently read an article that stated that the world's leading video game company, IGN Entertainment, was selecting programming talent through a "Code-Foo" challenge where people applied by submitting their coding work irrespective of degree or experience. Isn't this what Mark Zuckerberg was doing in his free time that lead to Facebook? And how old is he, 20 something?
This also involves asking for and seeking out assignments in the professional settings that allow you to gain valuable experience you don't already have. Seek opportunities that stretch your experience and challenge you.
5. Seek a mentor in the field and learn from their expertise.
Interested in considering more ways build credibility in your field? You might find this article on Great Leadership by Dan by guest blogger Cara Hale Alter a good read.
What have you done to gain expertise beyond biding your time?