7 Roadblocks to Thought Leadership

Opportunities abound for leaders from all walks of life to utilize thought leadership strategies in order to gain visibility and credibility for their ideas. So why, then, do so few pursue these avenues? What are the roadblocks that hold people back and how can you overcome them?

1. Fire Your Itty Bitty Sh*tty Committee

We all have them — those voices in our head that tell us to just quit now because we are never going to be successful anyway.

One of my clients calls it her “Itty Bitty Sh*tty Committee”. Sound familiar? Those internal negative voices that hold us back from stepping into the spotlight or claiming our expertise.

The first step is to recognize that you are not alone. We ALL have those warning voices in our head.

Next, you have two options: Those of you who are far more polite than I am can just say, (quietly to yourself), “Thank you!” to recognize the warnings and then go about your business.

Alternatively, you can say, (not so quietly to yourself), “Shut Up!”.

That’s what I do. Early and often.

I know those voices want me to take the safe route or warn me away from the shoals ahead, but I believe in taking risks and I can only do that when I can quiet – or temporarily silence – those voices in my head.

You can, too! Just talk back and let them know who is in charge.

2. Believe in Your Inner Lion

We all know change agents who keep going in the face of seemingly insurmountable hurdles that should take them out of the game.

Have you ever wondered why?

There is a wonderful image that gives the full explanation. It is a picture of a tiny orange kitten seated before a beautiful antique mirror. In the mirror he sees reflected back at him not his own tiny kitten self but instead an enormous orange lion, calm and majestic.

Cat in front of lion

We are all that kitten looking in the mirror. Depending on what messages we tell ourselves (see #1 above), whom we surround ourselves with (see #7), or how things are going in our lives, we see ourselves reflected as a lion with more or less frequency.

In order to see the lion more often, you have to believe you have a better idea, a better product, a better service, a better way of doing things.

And even when you don’t see that lion self reflected back, you have to keep going.

Don’t think about whether or not anyone will read your blog or follow your Tweets or whether you’ll ever be a top-notch public speaker. Think about whether you have an idea that needs to be heard, adopted and scaled to make (even a small) change in the world. Then go.

3. Find a Test Bed

Have you seen the documentary Comedians? It tells the story of Jerry Seinfeld and another comic getting ready for a big show. Night after night, these performers practiced their trade in front of tiny audiences in hole-in-the-wall dives in tiny cities around the country. That practice gave them the test bed for their ideas (jokes) and those that ‘worked’ on the small stage they subsequently played before larger and larger audiences.

We all need small test beds for our ideas.

My friend Nina Bhatti, a former research scientist at HP Labs, began her career as a public speaker by presenting brown bag lunch programs and Open House events to showcase her group’s research. This led to invitations to speak at small company programs, which then led to invitations to larger events. At each point, she learned what resonated with her audience and then refined and honed and discarded unworkable ideas until she had a talk that was ready for prime time.

This technique doesn’t just work for speaking. When Avinash Kaushik began to write his popular blog, Occam’s Razor, he invited a small audience of co-workers and his wife to read his first posts. Only after using them as a test audience for a few months did he venture to put his blog out to a wider audience. Today he has well over 100,000 followers to his blog.

What small venues can you find to test your ideas?

4. Stop Waiting to Be Discovered

Unless your organization expressly forbids you from showcasing your own expertise outside the company (and sadly, I know of some that do), the time is now. Stop waiting for permission or an invitation to arrive in the mail. Just get started.

One of my clients told me that she had always wanted to be recognized as one of the 40 Under 40 in her local business journal. As she was already 38, I suggested it might be time to ask someone to nominate her rather than waiting another year to be discovered.

She followed my advice and won her place the following year. And the recognition of winning that award has given her numerous opportunities to showcase the work that her organization is doing and invitations to much larger venues to present her ideas.

Later she admitted that without my impetus, she never would have pushed for the nomination, even though she had several ideas of folks who could put her name forward. I gave her “permission” to get what she’d always wanted.

Why not give yourself permission to be discovered this year? Find someone to nominate you for an award; contact a local organization to speak at their event; write and submit a guest blog to a well-trafficked site sharing your ideas.

5. Think Value-Add…Not Self-Promotion

Guy Kawasaki, best-selling author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish a Book, is frequently called on to talk with individuals who are considering writing their first book. During one of those conversations, he received an interesting question from his audience, one that I often hear at my talks: “Is all this [writing a book, speaking, and so on] just self-promotion?”

Kawasaki said he is always surprised by this question. He turned back to the audience and asked, “Is what you’re doing of value? If so, then keep going. It is not self-promoting if you are adding value to the world.”

I couldn’t agree more. Rather than being concerned about whether others will interpret your actions as bragging, recognize the value of sharing new ideas and new ways of thinking; envision yourself as the spokesperson or the evangelist for the innovation or improvement you want to see in the world. Share your best thinking; curate the best ideas from others in your ecosystem; lead people to the resources they need and you will be adding enormous value. NOT self-promoting.

6. Remember, It’s All Just Learning

Hank Leber, the cofounder and CEO of GonnaBe, believes, “Failure doesn’t even really exist. If something doesn’t go the way that you planned it to go, and you learn from it, that’s just called learning. That’s not really failure. Failure is if you keep doing the same wrong things over and over; you’re not really making progress. Otherwise, it’s just learning—and learning is good! So, if your goal is to learn as much as possible as you go, instead of your goal is to not fail, then you can keep on going and going and going.”

What if you approached thought leadership the same way?

People often tell me that they can’t possibly put themselves out there as a thought leader because a) they might make a mistake – say/write something that isn’t completely accurate; b) they don’t know enough – others might have more information than they do; or c) they might freeze up – get in front of an audience and forget what they know.

All those fears can be paralyzing.

If we can remember that every step along the way is just a part of the learning process – even those that appear to be mistakes – we can go much further.

If you say/write something that isn’t completely accurate, you can correct yourself (promptly).

If others know more, take that as an opportunity to learn rather than beating yourself up for what you don’t know.

If you freeze up in front of an audience, laugh, admit it and move on. Then don’t spend more time beating yourself up about it the next day. (See #1 above).

Remember, It’s All Just Learning.

7. Surround Yourself With Other Thought Leaders

At a conference I spoke at recently, a woman I met was telling me she had a great idea for a software program and had raised the $40,000 she needed to build the prototype but she was unable to decide whether or not to take the funding and move forward. I recommended that she change the people that she was hanging out with every day from corporate people to entrepreneurs who would push her to think bigger and take the risk.

The same advice applies to thought leaders. If you find yourself holding back from  getting out and serving on boards, speaking or writing a book, then find a community of people who do all of those things naturally. They will give you the impetus to get moving. If you can’t find them in your neighborhood, look online.

It is often our community that influences us to step out of our comfort zone. Find one that will support and champion your efforts every step of the way.

What roadblocks are you facing? Anything I’m missing? Please comment below or Tweet to me @thoughtleadrlab.

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