Labels That Rub You The Wrong or Right Way?

We’re witnessing a backlash against those who hold themselves out as teachers but behave in a way that undermines the student being the expert in their life. Are there labels (guru-mentor-expert-thought leader-teacher-other) that rub you wrong or work for you – why? More importantly, what behaviors do you see as inconsistent with holding yourself out as a teacher?

(Please refrain from using names of specific people, otherwise your post will be deleted).

Leave A Reply (21 comments So Far)

  • Balancedspirit

    I don’t like the word,”expert”. I don’t feel anyone is an expert. I feel an expert would have to be perfect and no one is. We are all teachers and we are all students. No one should put anyone down who tries to teach others as I see when I read book reviews who criticize the author for using their own experiences in their books. The inconsistencies in myself as a teacher is probably the same as many… I find myself telling others what they should do but not doing these things myself consistently. That alone is why I don’t teach others (for profit in a business like enterprise) because I feel like a hypocrite. But the passion to live in the way I tell others to is still very much there and the passion to teach others so they can improve their lives is there also. In the end, my conclusion is that I should just live the way I know I should and soon teaching it may come naturally and hopefully a business can blossom from just practicing what I preach.

    • So interesting. It appears we all have different words that are loaded for us – for you an “expert” needs to be perfect and anything short of perfection is hypocritical. I fought that label for years for a different reason – because I believe each of us is the expert in our own life.

      I have a post brewing tentatively called “Do I Listen to Anything I Say?” 🙂 All teachers have those moments when they step back and ask, am I or why aren’t I taking my own advice here? The possible lessons in these moments are profound. Powerful conclusion – live with a high level of personal integrity and share from a place of walking your talk.

  • Balancedspirit

    I don’t like the word,”expert”. I don’t feel anyone is an expert. I feel an expert would have to be perfect and no one is. We are all teachers and we are all students. No one should put anyone down who tries to teach others as I see when I read book reviews who criticize the author for using their own experiences in their books. The inconsistencies in myself as a teacher is probably the same as many… I find myself telling others what they should do but not doing these things myself consistently. That alone is why I don’t teach others (for profit in a business like enterprise) because I feel like a hypocrite. But the passion to live in the way I tell others to is still very much there and the passion to teach others so they can improve their lives is there also. In the end, my conclusion is that I should just live the way I know I should and soon teaching it may come naturally and hopefully a business can blossom from just practicing what I preach.

  • Katrina

    “You are your own best teacher” say Dauda Zai and Jenni P in their Quantum Heart Project. Hopefully using specific names in tribute to their work is within the spirit of Best Life Design.

    This really reminds me of the purity in the prayer by Saint Ignatius of Loyola:
    Teach us, Good Lord,
    To Serve Thee as Thou deservest;
    To give and not to count the cost;
    To fight and not to heed the wounds;
    To labour and to ask for no reward,
    save the joy of knowing that we do Thy will.

    • Yes – using specific names in tribute is well within spirit of Best Life Design 🙂

      Lovely thoughts on the joy of service…

  • Anonymous

    Hi Mollie!

    As a communication professional I look at the meanings of words carefully. Of the words you listed I’m fine with a professional selling their services to call herself some of them:

    Mentor – someone who can be looked up to because they are in a place where others want to be and who is willing to help others achieve the same status, results, success, etc.

    Teacher – A person with information to share that will help others and knows how to get that information across so the other person can use it to their benefit over and over again without the teacher being present.

    Expert – The legal definition for expert testimony talks about a person who is qualified: “Expert witnesses are persons who are qualified, either by actual experience or by careful study, to form definite opinions with respect to a division of science, a branch of art, or a department of trade.” If you can prove your qualifications, you’re an expert.

    —-
    Guru – I believe the technical definition of this word is “teacher,” but to call oneself a “guru” seems a bit presumptuous and self-aggrandizing to me.

    Thought Leader – I posted a status update on Facebook a couple weeks ago about this very word that got A LOT of replies. My stance was that most people who are genuine thought leaders are actually too busy thinking & solving the problems they are uniquely qualified to solve to be bothered calling themselves a thought leader. You prove your thought leadership-ness by actually *being* a person who truly leads a field or industry with innovative thoughts, concepts, or practices instead of just playing one on TV and yelling it to the world, “look at me, I’m a thought leader.” Pul-eazze.

    —-

    Those are my thoughts! Great question this week!
    Felicia Slattery

    • Dominant theme emerging … love how you state your point about earning your designation by actually *being* a person who truly leads a field or industry with innovative thoughts, concepts, or practices instead of just playing one on TV (LOL) and yelling it to the world. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  • S Yoder

    This discussion reminds me of the greatest Teacher/Rabbi who taught mostly by the way He lived. It was congruent with the words He spoke. He asked questions of those around Him and they learned also from these.He never condemed the person but did sometimes repeat the lesson.

    • Agree that there’s no better way than to teach by who we are/what we do versus what we say. Appreciate your suggestion of using Qs to teach and not judging – simply repeating or clarifying as needed.

  • Melocrat

    The only one that really gets up my nose is “guru”, particularly “self-proclaimed guru”. Aside from the misuse (it is etymologically meaningful in a way not respected by people who call themselves marketing or sales gurus), there is an implication of “sitting at the feet” of a guru. Following uncritically the viewpoint, worldview, outlook, philosophy, ideology or mode of behavior necessarily requires supplanting one’s own for the guru’s.

    Whose responsibility is that? Do you, as the follower, willingly or perhaps unconsciously give up your sense of expertise in your own life? Or does the guru “make” you? Convince you? Has this or that guru made abdicating your own life knowledge a prerequisite to being a good “student” or “follower”?

    I think mentor, teacher, guide, coach, and perhaps even thought leader have their place. They should, however, be used based on how close to the verb form the individual’s practice is. If you are a ground-breaking researcher in cognitive science, you might well indeed be a “thought leader”. If you teach, transfer some specialized knowledge to someone else, you are a teacher.

    If you call yourself a coach, but are really telling people what to do and how to do it, you are a mentor or teacher or some other thing that is not a “coach”, since respect for the client’s own agency is a bedrock principle in coaching.

    It is the mislabeling, much more than the labels themselves, that really irritates me. Claiming the title “small business coach”, while selling a one-size-fits-all program/blueprint/roadmap/magic pill for getting clients/marketing/creating programs/generating leads is absurd. At it’s best that’s consultancy, selling a ready-made solution, not coaching. Just to complete the thought, that wrinkles my nose because it dilutes, or contributes to the mis-perception of, the profession of “coaching”.

  • Melocrat

    The only one that really gets up my nose is “guru”, particularly “self-proclaimed guru”. Aside from the misuse (it is etymologically meaningful in a way not respected by people who call themselves marketing or sales gurus), there is an implication of “sitting at the feet” of a guru. Following uncritically the viewpoint, worldview, outlook, philosophy, ideology or mode of behavior necessarily requires supplanting one’s own for the guru’s.

    Whose responsibility is that? Do you, as the follower, willingly or perhaps unconsciously give up your sense of expertise in your own life? Or does the guru “make” you? Convince you? Has this or that guru made abdicating your own life knowledge a prerequisite to being a good “student” or “follower”?

    I think mentor, teacher, guide, coach, and perhaps even thought leader have their place. They should, however, be used based on how close to the verb form the individual’s practice is. If you are a ground-breaking researcher in cognitive science, you might well indeed be a “thought leader”. If you teach, transfer some specialized knowledge to someone else, you are a teacher.

    If you call yourself a coach, but are really telling people what to do and how to do it, you are a mentor or teacher or some other thing that is not a “coach”, since respect for the client’s own agency is a bedrock principle in coaching.

    It is the mislabeling, much more than the labels themselves, that really irritates me. Claiming the title “small business coach”, while selling a one-size-fits-all program/blueprint/roadmap/magic pill for getting clients/marketing/creating programs/generating leads is absurd. At it’s best that’s consultancy, selling a ready-made solution, not coaching. Just to complete the thought, that wrinkles my nose because it dilutes, or contributes to the mis-perception of, the profession of “coaching”.

    • Melocrat

      Oops … left out “expert”. An expert must have expertise. (this comes up, I imagine, from a lot of recent and very very highly publicized “position yourself as an expert” programs, that are short on “Actually be one first”) I don’t think an expert needs to be “perfect” but must have some legitimate, externalized claim to expertise.

      “I wouldn’t call myself an OB/Gyn just because I once helped deliver a baby in the back of a taxi!”

    • Melocrat

      Oops … left out “expert”. An expert must have expertise. (this comes up, I imagine, from a lot of recent and very very highly publicized “position yourself as an expert” programs, that are short on “Actually be one first”) I don’t think an expert needs to be “perfect” but must have some legitimate, externalized claim to expertise.

      “I wouldn’t call myself an OB/Gyn just because I once helped deliver a baby in the back of a taxi!”

      • Very true. If you have accumulated knowledge and experience for years, it tastes a little sour to see how easily one can become a recognized “expert”, if only for a limited time.

        Though I believe that the clients of these people will soon enough recognize the eyewash, the deterioration of the term “expert” is what rubs me the wrong way.

        By the way, I am an expert on zeolites.

    • John Deloslo

      Melocrat, brilliant… love the clever way you put it.

      The transfer of knowledge that has value is important and limited in supply. The transfer of knowledge that has little value or is designed to mislead, complicate or deliberately confuse is popular eg: cook books, advertising etc.,

      If transmitters and receivers were all divergent thinkers and critically minded what would happen.

      Respect for the client’s own agency is a bedrock principle in coaching…? I agree but who decided and where is this principle stated.

      • Melocrat

        John — this is just a lazy C&P from the ICF website. For more elucidation, the 4 foundational principles are reviewed in Co-Active Coaching, Whitworth et al.

        THE ICF CODE OF ETHICS

        Part One: The ICF Philosophy of Coaching

        The International Coach Federation adheres to a form of coaching that honors the client as the expert in his/her life and work and believes that every client is creative, resourceful, and whole.
        Standing on this foundation, the coach’s responsibility is to:
        • Discover, clarify, and align with what the client wants to achieve
        • Encourage client self-discovery
        • Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies
        • Hold the client responsible and accountable

        • Melocrat – insightful and well-spoken take on client centered coaching … an oxymoron for real coaches 🙂

          Claudia – I had to look up zeolites (I’m clearly not an expert). Very cool.

          John – appreciate you bringing your critical thinking & Q to this conversation.

        • John Deloslo

          Thanks Melocrat!
          Whitworth et al, thanks for the heads up. You got any cool slang words for collaborate?

        • Melocrat – thanks again for your input and fostering a great dialogue on this Q. You’ve won a copy of my book! Please contact linda@bestlifedesign.com to make arrangements to receive. Congrats!!

  • John Deloslo

    Labels dont bother me so much as the effect of perceptions.. teachers are unpopular and coaches are very popular, generally speaking. Why? Ask the learners?

    Teachers that choose to take the time to reflect impress me.. those too busy and often money driven often fail to reflect over their experiences and therefore lack genuine experience. Maybe this is part of the reason the experts, teachers, Gurus, thought leaders and so on sometimes get it horribly wrong… who said you cant make mayo with the egg white… of course you can!

    • It’s a challenging world in which to create the white space needed for reflection and discernment. I’m with you in admiring those who do this and share the fruit it brings with others.