Dr Todd Dewett is one of LinkedIn's most prominent educators, helping thousands of people around the world solve issues in their careers. Dr Dewett talks to The Industry Leaders about how he's 'not a great leader in the classic sense' and how he overcomes nerves before speaking to large audiences.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
Hard work, risk-taking, and luck. It took hard work to make the grades and earn the degrees.
Multiple times, I've taken risks in the name of finding purpose, fit, and success in my career. Leaving the consulting gig for a PhD: big risk. Leaving a tenured job for life to work for myself: huge risk!
Luck - it must be acknowledged - was with me though, as Lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning) discovered me; otherwise, things might have worked out differently. The existence of luck is why we are obligated to be service-minded. Maybe we can be what others come to see as good luck.
What kind of work does your role involve?
Mostly, I write books, give speeches, and make online courses. Every day I think about my experiences in business and in life, read about the experiences of others, look at the research, and spend time contemplating how to use this knowledge to help people with specific problems in their careers.
My job is a creative effort focused on translating bits of knowledge through speaking and writing.
What gets you excited about your industry?
I'm fascinated by the growing number of technologies and platforms that allow new human connections. Paid learning platforms, social media, podcasts - all proliferating to the point that degrees are becoming somewhat optional.
As a professor, I was able to help a few hundred students per year. Now my courses are watched by thousands per day. It's the same with professional speaking. Our ability to record and distribute video, or just live stream, is getting stronger and faster every year. What once was a speech for a live audience of one hundred people is now a speech for one hundred, streamed to a few thousand in other locations, and later watched on video by even more.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
A mentor suggested that I would not be able to maximize my entrepreneurial efforts as long as I treated them as side hustles. He overtly suggested I think about quitting my full-time job as a tenured professor earning a decent six-figure salary. And he knew I had two young sons.
But he was right.
I eventually resigned at 42 years old, moved to a new state, and now at 50, I'm fortunate to say it's working out very well. I'm confident I would not have been this successful had I stayed in the ivory tower.
You're well-known for speaking to huge audiences. Do you ever get nervous before engagements, and what advice would you give to wannabe public speakers?
I get nervous before every gig. We all do. Professional speakers simply learn to channel the nerves into positive energy they can use.
My pre-event routine is to spend a few minutes imagining what success looks like while listening to music that energizes me (rock, metal, and punk are my go-to favourites).
But my advice is to speak. Whether it's at work, school, your civic organization, as part of Toastmasters, or as an expert like me at a gig. Speak as much as you can in front of others. You'll do it for free just like me until you're great and someone offers to pay you - that's how it starts. How do you know you're approaching a professional level? The audience reacts strongly with very clear emotions - every single time. Also, find someone way better than you and ask them for a brutal analysis of your speaking.
What kind of leader are you?
The kind lucky to have found a career that fits. I was once a dean (Assistant Dean over an MBA program), and I was not an awesome dean! Being a professor fit very well, but being an administrator did not fit well. I'm far better as an outside change agent; thus, my current role fits perfectly.
Sure, it's ironic - I advise leaders as a big part of what I do, but I am not a great leader in the classic sense. So what! The goal to maximizing how much you can help yourself and others is to figure out where you fit - that amazing place where you can be yourself doing something you really enjoy. You'll know you're there when you can honestly say, "I can't believe they pay me for this".
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in your industry?
Like any good professional, I do believe in continuous learning. I try to stay up on the research about leadership and life at work. I read blogs and books, and I enjoy podcasts. I am sure to network and follow others who do what I do, which is always motivational.
Anyone can find the knowledge that I have if you study long enough. A traditional PhD gives you a deep understanding of scientific research and what it means to "know something." Having said that, you don't need an advanced degree to learn most of the findings that matter. You just need to read, observe, find mentors and coaches, and stay dedicated to your personal growth.
What's the most challenging project or situation you've overcome?
One of the biggest challenges I ever faced happened fairly early in my speaking career. I was hired by a large, very well-known firm to give a big keynote - my first big keynote to a large audience. I was excited: the fee was my biggest ever, and the venue was amazing!
I stood on stage after the introduction thinking how great this was - a huge validation and sign of things to come. Then I opened my mouth, and things went bad quickly.
I thought I knew what a keynote was. I was wrong. I spoke like a boring professor, with terrible boring slides, using big fancy words - boring the audience to death.
It was painful watching their disinterest. A truly embarrassing moment. So, what do you do with that?
After a few hours of feeling sorry for myself and blaming the audience, I realized the truth: I had work to do. I could skip the speaking career and just be a professor or get to work. I chose to do the work, and I continue to do it today.
That horribly rough hour on stage became an amazing catalyst - and a fun story I've shared around the world ever since.
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
Truthfully, I'd keep a million, give each of my two boys a million, use one more million to help a few friends and family members, and give the rest away.
I would definitely show up at work tomorrow, strive to write something useful, and look forward to the next live speaking event. As long as I'm healthy, regardless of making a little or a lot, I'll be doing some version of what I do now for the rest of my days.
How do you switch off after a day at work?
I love to cook. I'm not particularly skilled, but I always have fun in the kitchen - wine helps! I enjoy a little exercise as well. Sometimes that is listening to podcasts or music while taking long walks; other times, it's watching a show on my tablet while riding on my exercise bike.
Books and movies are my favourite entertainment. I also seriously miss going to the movies and look forward to a triumphant return to overpriced popcorn soon.
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
I hope live in-person events become common again! Nothing matches the rush of standing in front of thousands of people sharing something fun and useful.
Having said that, I'm very hopeful that technologies continue to evolve, so we have more and more ways for experts to connect and help people, anywhere, anytime. We have seen such great new tech at increasingly lower costs over the last decade.
If you're an expert and wish to help others and monetize your expertise, there's never been a better time.
What book or podcast should everyone know about?
Podcasts to check out include WTF with Marc Maron (great to get into the minds of creative people) and the Freakonomics podcast.
What's next for you and your company?
I'm about to deliver my fourth TEDx speech, writing several new courses on aspects of leadership and change, and about to launch an online coaching service called 'Just Ask Dr D'.
There are lots of irons in the fire!
Editor's Note: Having published over 30 online courses for LinkedIn Learning, Dr Todd Dewett is one of the world's most watched leadership personalities. Join over 40,000 other industry professionals and follow him, here.
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