By Denise Brosseau
As a change agent, you face many different options for how to spend your day and there are likely so many tactical items on your to-do list it’s hard to focus on the strategic. And yet…you know that in order to have a larger impact, you must step away from the day-to-day. You must make the time to share your message widely, build alliances with others who share your vision of the future and nurture connections with those who can build on and carry forward your ideas to their communities. This is the work of a thought leader.
The thought leadership journey often begins with a mindset shift that requires setting aside (at least for the moment) fears and doubts. When we adopt a mindset every morning that our work matters and we honor our work and our community’s efforts by having the courage to take a visible role in promoting them, that’s when we begin to build our influence and make a wider impact.
Next, identify your “thought leadership intersection point” – the one (or just a few) arenas where your interests, expertise, credibility, and commitment align. If you have worked in one field for a long time, your niche may already be fairly well established—particularly if you have built a distinguished track record or created a body of work in one arena.
Now, ask yourself what is the future you are working to bring about? Are you working to overcome injustice or bring about a transformation in a community, region or beyond? What is the big, audacious future you envision that you want to bring others on board to help you achieve? I call this the What If? future – a single, simple, striking description or image of the future you want to see. An inspiring WIF can attract followers and galvanize them to take action.
As a next step, clarify the role that you are playing in bringing about that future and think about who else is working towards that future as well. Maybe your organization is working to help women start small businesses while others are developing better financial products and services for women who have a business. Think broadly about how you might identify allies and how you might amplify each other’s efforts and even work more effectively together.
The essential difference between leaders and thought leaders is often the latter’s ability to distill their know-how into a replicable model so that others can be inspired and empowered to expand on what they have accomplished.
Ask yourself these questions:
• How can I/we show others the path forward?
• How can I/we build frameworks and blueprints that distill what we’ve learned so others can replicate those efforts elsewhere?
This step is often the one that is overlooked. We forget how difficult it was for us to learn what we know to bring about change. And yet, if we can create the user guide or the ‘franchise manual’ that shows the step by step processes behind our work, we can then license or give away that information as we wish. This will empower others to help us extend our reach and have a much broader impact.
One important and on-going element of the thought leadership journey is to craft crisp and compelling messages that are easy to understand, remember and repeat. In the US, one of the phrases I like is “Click it or ticket” which was instrumental in encouraging people to put on their seat belts when they got in the car. How might you develop a short, memorable phrase around your work?
Another option is to use a metaphor to get people’s attention. For example, in a Huffington Post blog post entitled, “Fossil Fuel Is the New Slavery: Morally and Economically Corrupt,” Robin Chase, the co-founder of one of the first car-sharing companies and an advocate for sustainability, uses a metaphor (slavery) that not only captures people’s attention but gets them to reexamine their preconceived notions. What metaphors best explain and engage others with your ideas?
If you can find a way to represent your ideas in a simple, visual way, you’ll go a long way toward engaging followers and explaining your ideas. Most people are visual learners—they learn more quickly with their eyes than their ears. Think of yourself as a visual storyteller: can you show as well as tell others your ideas?
Finally, it’s important to identify the platforms and mediums that best fit your style and audience. For example, do you prefer videos, a TED Talk, writing a book or creating a curriculum? Select a few to get started and share your message widely. Over time, expand your reach by building your skill set in new mediums – continuously strive to improve your speaking, writing and presentation skills. They are the fundamentals of thought leadership.
Most of us have “thought leadership” on our to-do list but we make the assumption that we should go it alone. Instead, I invite you to find a few others (maybe other members of the Women Leaders for the World) who are equally committed to becoming thought leaders and band together to help each other out.
Set up a regular schedule to come together and share what you’re working on. Agree to use the “care-frontation” model – everyone gives each other constructive, honest feedback on their blog or presentation, but they do so with kindness so that no one gets discouraged and no one’s ego gets bruised. Having a small tribe of folks to rely on and a regular commitment to sharing ideas will push each of you further as you inspire and encourage one another to keep going.
About Denise Brosseau
As the CEO of Thought Leadership Lab, Denise has the unusual expertise of being a thought leader about thought leadership. She consults with entrepreneurs, executives and their teams on how to increase their influence, build their brand, expand their impact & gain recognition for their innovations and big ideas. Denise began her career in the technology industry before co-founding and leading the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs (now Watermark) and co-founding Springboard, the first venture capital conference for women entrepreneurs which has since led
to over $8B in venture capital for women-founded and women-led companies.
Denise is a frequent keynote speaker and is a lecturer at Stanford Business School on topics of credibility, influence and thought leadership. She is the author of Ready to Be a Thought Leader? (Wiley) and she has an online course Becoming a Thought Leader on LinkedIn Learning.
Denise received her BA from Wellesley College and her MBA from Stanford. She was honored by the White House as a Champion of Change.