Personal development: top tips for becoming a thought leader
What do you want to become known for? Whatever your field, it requires a strategic approach if you want to be considered a thought leader and receive the opportunities and reputational benefits that come with this.
The first time I heard the term ‘thought leadership’ I was confused about the criteria used to assess the person being described as a thought leader. Even now, 12 later, I’m still not sure the majority of business people could tell you exactly what it means but having written several books on the subject and spoken to thousands of people about it, I have developed my views on the topic. Let’s just say it is about being seen as an expert with something new and interesting to say. That would be a good goal for every business owner as well as career professionals, as it makes you more attractive and gives you an edge in business. If you want to move up in your career and win more business at higher fees, you definitely want to consider positioning yourself as a thought leader.
If you want to stand out and move up, you really need to push yourself to say something original. Don’t settle for the obvious, the boring, the ‘me-too’ content.
Thought leadership results in awards, rankings and features, books, articles, TED talks and more. It doesn’t really matter what you produce, or which list you appear on, as long as you are being recognised for the right message. Before that happens, however, and before the article, video or book is out, there is an important first step. Thought leadership is the result. Thought leadership strategy is the work that goes into planning, creating and sharing the message.
Know what you want to be known for
Sounds like a tongue twister, doesn’t it? Don’t underestimate the importance of knowing exactly what you want your brand to be, however. Do you ever get people introducing you in the wrong way? Or maybe you want to move into a new area or be known for something new. Whenever there is a disconnect between your current profile and your ideal profile, it is up to you to build a bridge, connect the dots for people and lead them to the key message.
I often tell a story about being introduced at a networking event as ‘that book lady’. I said ‘No, that’s not exactly right’ which embarrassed my introducer and made him feel bad. Luckily this was in a private conversation and not on stage! Nowadays, I would explain how I work with aspiring thought leaders to help them plan and write truly thought-leading books, thus bringing in the older description (books) and tying it to the current one (thought leadership). The key here is respect for the other person while clarifying the message for them.
Carve out the time and space
Good thinking doesn’t usually just happen and great ideas do not always simply appear. Sometimes they do, such as when you are in the shower and you have the best idea ever but there’s soap in your eyes and you have no way to write it all down! The rest of the time, you need to make strategic thinking a priority and create the time and space to allow your best ideas to flow.
Most people would benefit from more exercise and movement. When you move your body, you increase blood circulation, including blood and oxygen flow to your brain. The clever people maximise and leverage that creativity by sitting down and capturing it soon after they come in from their walk or run. They don’t just jump from one activity to another; they make time to reflect and get their thoughts down on paper. They don’t stop there though. They take a step back to analyse and assess the ideas. They push their thinking. They go beyond most where most people are willing to go. They seek and find their truly thoughtful leadership.
How to become a thoughtful leader
It’s my belief that we are conditioned to think at quite a superficial level, and taught to make important decisions and draw insights too quickly. In-depth critical thinking is a rare skill these days. So it’s not your fault if you often stare at a blank page or screen and can’t think of anything to write. You need to build that muscle again – the one you used to use when you were a kid and drew on your imagination and curiosity a lot more than you do today. You can get help with your thinking; good coaches and consultants can help with strategic thinking.
If you want to stand out and move up, you really need to push yourself to say something original. Don’t settle for the obvious, the boring, the ‘me-too’ content. Learn to put the right amount and the right kind of thought into your interactions and content. It takes practice to come up with truly original exciting, original and even disruptive messages. It also takes guts to look at what you are posting, writing or saying and conclude that it is simply not good enough. If you get into that habit I was talking about, of moving, then sitting, reflecting and pushing your thinking, you will be amazed at the thought leadership you can produce.
Mindy's latest book The Thoughtful Leader is available from Amazon and all good bookstores. Find out more at www.mindygk.com.
Interested in this topic? Read Why you need to show up if you want to step up into an L&D leadership role.