MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world

So You Think You’re A Leader… | February 5, 2011

Unlike traditional leaders, whose power emanates from action and impulse, the top thought leaders in America build empires with words and ideas. Their industries are diverse — you can find leadership lists for social media mavens, for experts of eco-friendliness, even for the best and brightest in trustworthy business practices — and their talents and insights are widely-spread through the genre of self-betterment literature. (Of today’s 60 bestselling books on Amazon.com, 20 have authors who are recognized as thought leaders.)

This is why it’s impressive that Dorie Clark, a strategic marketing consultant who counts Google among her clients, has emerged as a thought leader in a previously unexplored area: thought leadership itself. Having built a career of her ability to think critically, Clark seems an ideal candidate to dictate the rules of becoming a thought leader — which she generously shared three months ago in a guest blog for the Harvard Business Review. Read below her six steps to achieve the coveted status of Industry Guru, as well as interpretations and reactions to her ideas.

1. Create a Robust Online Presence. One great thing about the web is that many of its avenues of access are free, so the cost of creating a presence online is mainly made up of time. Clark suggests networking with bloggers and other online authors; keeping content updated and original; and stressing the importance and uniqueness of your knowledge. Maintaining a consistent tone and genuine writing across all social media outlets — Twitter, Facebook and so on — can also be a vital tool, as well as keeping your web-page personality as close as possible to who you are in person. The internet should provide an exploration of your ideas, not a cloak for your true self. (Also: check out four common mistakes of first-time social media use. Knowing them can only help you avoid them.)

2. Flaunt High-Quality Affiliations. Perhaps it’s too strong to use the word “flaunt” — perhaps this step should be done more cleverly and discretely to achieve what Clark calls “credibility by proxy.” Name-dropping and back-patting are strategies best used in moderation, and can become very quickly annoying and off-putting if overdone. And above all, make sure your friends in high places think highly of you: if you list Donald Trump as a former employer, make sure he knows who you are and speaks only praise of your performance. (Unlike below.)

3. Give Public Speeches. This key strategy is Clark’s most fundamental goal, so long as hopeful thought leaders put in the effort to give memorable and thoughtful speeches. People develop an utmost respect for speakers who command a stage: because public speaking is widely recognized as a difficult and nerve-inducing task, it’s enthralling and entertaining when someone can do it gracefully. Furthermore, thanks to YouTube and the gamut of social networks, videos of speeches — especially good ones, undoubtedly great ones — can very easily reach an audience far beyond those present to see it in person. (MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech, for instance, has logged some 12 million views despite being several decades old.) Continue reading for Clark’s last three tips.

4. Appear on TV. Again, this is important but deserves clarifying: thought-leaders-to-be need to find the right channels of televised access and need to consider their on-screen company before airtime. Clark recommends cable news programs as a target, and underlines the importance of developing a media kit — which includes a bio, pictures, an explanation of areas of expertise, and writing samples — and mailing it to producers whenever major news in your industry hits the headlines. Staying away from reality TV is also a safe plan; thought leaders should broadcast everything they know about a given topic, not everything you don’t want to know about them.

5. Win Some Awards.
This is much easier said than done, but Clark recommends certain courses of action that some might never consider: choosing the awards you want, marking down their annual deadlines and self-nominating if necessary. She even provides an online database of industry awards, where you can find via simple searching the proverbial glass slipper (or slippers) of recognition.

6. Publish a Book. Because of the economic difficulties facing the publishing industry, this, according to Clark, is the “hardest piece of the puzzle.” But that also makes it the most instantaneous source of credibility: if you can achieve publication in as dire a market as today’s, existing industry leaders will have to pay attention. What’s more, books authored by thought leaders are often widely distributed in college classes, professional associations and even business-minded book clubs — so the stream of revenue and ubiquity of renown are guaranteed if a book becomes successful. Heed Clark’s wisest words: “[T]here is no more definitive proof of thought leadership than authoring a good book on your chosen subject.”

Thought leadership, of course, is not in strict terms a science. But Clark’s guidelines are solid and achievable, and they come from a source who has accomplished them all over the course of her career. Lead by these thoughts, her careful and wise readers could develop into the thought leaders of tomorrow.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] few weeks ago, we identified six traditional methods behind thought leadership: creating an online presence, flaunting […]

    Pingback by Not Just Cats: Leadership through YouTube « MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world — February 23, 2011 @ 7:32 am


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