3 Tips To Get You Started on Your Path to Thought Leadership

I was on the phone today with a new client — a woman who runs a large trade association. During the 2 years since she was hired, she has had her head down focusing internally. Now, with the organization on a sound financial footing, she’s ready to be a part of the larger conversation in her field – to “be the voice for this sector.” She has a chance to build the organization’s credibility in their community and get “a seat at the table where decisions are being made.”

Like most leaders of organizations she admitted she has some challenges to overcome: she is not a great public speaker, she has little time and few resources and her board is not yet aligned with her external focus. However, as a visionary leader, she is quite clear that she needs to play a much bigger game for herself and her organization. So, she asked, “How should I get started?”

Join the Ecosystem

“It all begins with your ecosystem,” I told her. “Here’s how to think about it. Every organization, whether they are for profit or non-profit, is part of a broader ecosystem. Your job is to find the key players and engage with them.” I told her about my own experience running the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, when I began to receive invitations from groups like the National Women’s Business Council and the Kauffman Foundation to be a part of the national conversations about women’s entrepreneurship. That’s when I realized that there was an entire community of people all across the country that was working on the same challenges that I was (access to funding for women entrepreneurs) from their own particular perspective.

While I had chosen to build and run an organization focused on education and access to resources, and building community for women entrepreneurs; others were building incubators and accelerators; starting venture funds focused on women; and bringing together angel groups made up of women entrepreneurs and executives who had been successful and now wanted to invest in the next generation of women leaders.

It was only once I began to participate in these national discussions that I realized how intertwined all of our efforts were and how important it was for each of us to learn from each other and share best practices. And, most importantly, work together to bring about the future we all envisioned.

My client and I discussed where the existing conversations were taking place in her arena, but also how she could play the role as a convener, bringing others together to discuss the challenges and opportunities that she saw that needed to be addressed. By interfacing with big thinkers and sharing her own organization’s values and priorities, she will be more likely to move them forward. She will also increase her own satisfaction with her job as she sees the larger impact she can have.

Put Your Strategic Priorities At the Top of the To Do List

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Next, we discussed the importance of re-prioritizing her to do list. The truth is, for many of us, we can get very short sighted. We look at the to do list in the morning and unless we have put some big picture strategic initiatives right there front and center at the top of our list, they will get pushed aside and forgotten. We will look up 3 months later and be no closer to raising our visibility, credibility and becoming a well-known thought leader in our niche. I suggested we take a hard look at her key priorities and make sure thought leadership was up at the top and then put in some specific actionable steps to move that goal forward.

Get Some Help

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As my client realized, she “needed to get comfortable in her message and be a contributor” but she could not do this by herself. As we got off the phone, she told me she felt that a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders to realize that there was someone like me who could help her craft her upcoming presentation to her board, create her stakeholder list and messaging documents, and help her think about and prepare for venturing outside her organization. She was excited to have a partner to push her to think big.

And I am eager to get started!

If you are ready to have the impact you deserve, here are 3 tips:

1)   Find Your Ecosystem: Research the national organizations that are focused on the same challenges as you, your company or your organization. You’ll usually find these groups in Washington with names like the National Association of…

2)   Make it a Priority: Put “become a thought leader” at the top of your to do list and every day think of one thing you can do – write, speak, convene, read – that will move that goal forward.

3)   Get Help: Find a thought partner, mastermind group or thought leadership consultant who can help you think about how you can always think bigger. And if we can help, denise at thoughtleadershiplab.com.

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