It was about 15 years ago. I was at a big trade show, and he came on the stage as a keynote speaker. As soon as he started to speak, you could tell: he had IT. Not charisma, not superb oratory skills, not necessarily even “star quality.” He had The Thought Leadership skill. People leaned in to hear what he had to say. They nodded their heads at his points and arguments. They understood what he was saying, even if they didn’t particularly know the industry. He could talk to a big audience and convey his vision on an individual level like nobody I’ve seen before. And I wondered, “Who trained him?”
We live in a world where everyone seems to be an expert on something (or at least they can Google better than anyone else). Everyone has an opinion. But if everyone is talking, who is being heard? Thought Leaders are, because they listen as well as they talk. They not only have something to say, they have something believable to say. Their idea may be pie-in-the-sky, but the way they articulate it makes everyone nod their head in agreement. This quality makes them sought-after speakers, and they are frequently approached for quotes on industry happenings. Look at the line at the podium after a Thought Leader speaks, and you know they’ve got something special.
But back to my question earlier—who taught this Thought Leader to be, well, a Thought Leader? Was he born this way, or did he have some natural ability and then was coached on the rest? I never got the chance to ask that guy on stage, but I have to believe it’s the latter. They say behind every strong man is a stronger woman. Behind every Thought Leader, however, there’s a great team.
We may not all be Thought Leaders, but we can certainly learn a lot from them, and from how they are positioned in the market. Here are some of the things I’ve taken away from the Thought Leaders I know:
- Learn how to articulate and channel your vision. Let’s face it, lots of people have great ideas. But at the heart of vision is the ability to cultivate imagination. This is a valuable skill at a time when the start-up world has established a new standard for innovation. Take a note from Thought Leaders and think BIG, and always be on the lookout for original ideas and new concepts. Encourage a vibrant corporate culture that rewards experimentation by pushing the envelope. True visionaries typically do not spring forth fully formed, but grow on the backs of hundreds of near misses and outright failures. Establishing this type of disruptive thinking on a personal level as well as within our companies opens the door to great achievements.
- Don’t be afraid of controversy. In the current business and tech climate, where so many things are in flux, it’s rare to find a group of people to agree on anything. Thought Leaders understand this and are not afraid to stand by their convictions, even if their position garners opposition and public criticism. Don’t be afraid of controversy—in fact, bring it on! If you have the ability to generate a conversation that attracts healthy debate and discourse, then you are on the right track. Nothing draws attention like a good argument!
- Act! The ability to be a good listener, to be passionate and to be deliberate lead to immediate action. Thought Leaders know this. They are experts at taking all the input they receive and quickly putting a game plan into action, so it pays to tune in to everything you can. Also, everyone wants to be heard and appreciated for their contribution. The Thought Leader gives more and more responsibility to those who act (and act quickly) on his or her vision.
Need a good laugh? You might want to check out this fast track to becoming a Thought Leader by Pat Kelly. And if you want a more comprehensive look at what it takes to establish Thought Leadership, check out the latest Calysto white paper, So You Want to Be a Thought Leader.