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How to Become a Thought-Leader

A few months ago, I lead a discussion with some colleagues about how to become thought-leaders in our offices and by extension, our industry. We focused on five ways to do it:

  1. Finding your fire and fueling it

  2. Committing to life-long learning

  3. Branding yourself with your value system

  4. Sharing your knowledge

  5. Networking and engaging others

We started the conversation talking about who inspires us. Some of the questions that were posed were:

What thought leaders or influencers inspire you? (They don’t have to be extremely well known.) Why do you like them? What do they do best? How can you apply things that appeal to you, so that you can in turn develop your own stance and your own following.

Then we moved on to how to find your fire by identifying and isolating your given area of thought-leadership. Here are some key steps:

  • Figure out your niche area — we are all good at many things, strategically where are your strengths and passions to find something you want to be consistent in working at? These can grow and adapt throughout one’s career but starting with one area is key.

  • Have a confident point-of-view — Take the knowledge you’ve gathered and package it into a unique, provocative and succinct storyline. Be prepared to stand up for your perspective, or tweak it as your POV evolves.

  • Remember that your background and role make you as qualified as anyone to speak on your topic of choice. The key here is that you have to have results proving that you know what you’re talking about. If you are giving your opinions and advice on a topic that you cannot show a measure of success in, you won’t be able to maintain a loyal following for long.

Next we discussed the various ways we learn and how to solidify your unique POV and open yourself to new perspectives through observation and research. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Commit to lifelong learning and development in this area — you will never know everything in your area (and that’s OK, but) always be on the lookout to learn more and try to find ways of furthering the field and helping others.

  • Become data literate — It’s clear that data will continue to become the most valuable asset for proof points and decision-making.

  • Position yourself to lead in this environment.

  • Become an Observer - A lot of original thought leadership comes from observation — particularly of how things are changing. By paying attention to shifts in culture, societal roles, and values, you can start to make better predictions of what the future will look like. Pay closer attention to how the world is changing around you.

Following that, we discussed ways to brand yourself appropriately by working to identify your value system then decide (stick to) your mission and vision. There were some very reflective and introspective questions asked at this point. Here are a few of them:

  • Have you ever performed an exercise or taken a test where you identified your key attributes?

  • Were you surprised by them?

  • Have you ever asked others their thoughts about you?

  • Have you defined a personal or professional mission, vision, and values statement?

  • What ways do you hold yourself accountable for sticking to your work ethic? What about your values and belief system?

Our time together was cut short, but we also hoped to discuss how to share your knowledge and developing strategies for peer-to-peer, employee-to-manager, and entrepreneur-to-audience idea sharing.

One of the most important things you can do is ensure you have a clear and consistent message in an area you are an expert in — and drive that message through everything you do. This will be your thought leadership platform, so make sure it is something you are not only credible in but passionate about.

1. Content: Prove It Again and Again. Executing something well once isn’t enough.

2. Provide Value. The goal is to constantly focus on how to bring value to others.

3. Positivity Wins. Scaring people into action only works in the short term.

4. Use Data…All. The. Time. Proof points are essential to turn doubters into doers.

5. Experiment and iterate. Things that are good, work how they should. Be remarkable instead.

And finally, how to network by engaging others outside of your comfort zone to develop a larger area of influence. Here are a few things to try:

  • Network with others in your niche space, and create new ideas. Ideas are great but are only as good as they spread. How will you share them with your network and a larger area of influence?

  • Join a committee or task force in niche area — Join and take part in areas where you can share your experiences. Become a leader in any way possible at the beginning and work to figure out the path that makes sense for you.

  • Connect and network with other thought leaders — with social media, it is easy to connect and follow what they are doing. Share comments and insights and offer to assist them if there is something that you can do to add value for them.

I hope you found this this quick recap helpful as you continue on your journey toward career advancement with your professional leadership brand.

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