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Leadership of any kind is a tricky proposition. But thought leadership is another breed entirely. It’s one that’s even more focused on consciousness-raising and mind-changing than the garden variety of leader.
How do you foster this kind of leadership in yourself, and what qualities do you need to invest your time and energy in? If you’re in the business of shaping minds, here’s what you need to do it.
- A Love for What You Do
There’s no point in trying to become a thought leader if you don’t enjoy what you do. In fact, it probably needs to be the center of your world. In a moment, we’ll get to why it’s important not to fake this. For now, try putting yourself in the shoes of any given audience.
Maybe you’re online, and you’re reading an influencer’s web article. Or maybe you’re at a keynote presentation at a conference. Ask yourself how receptive you’d be if the speaker carries on like the subject of their lecture is a distant fifth place in the list of things they care about.
If you can’t convince yourself to care about what you do, you won’t convince anybody else, either.
- An Engaging Personality
“Most people” would probably agree that “most people” aren’t cut out to be leaders. This is especially true when we’re talking about thought leaders. The need for a “larger than life” and truly engaging personality is a big part of the reason why.
If you’re in the business of changing people’s minds, the delivery of your material needs to be engaging to the point that people don’t want to look away. This is probably a skill that begins gestating in future-leaders early on in their careers. But a dynamic, engaging presence is something you can cultivate if you want to — and if you have a breadth of inspiring experiences to draw from.
- A Natural Humility
There’s kind of a paradox when it comes to high-quality leaders. Many of the best ones aren’t that naturally inclined to seek out positions of authority. This could be part of what makes them so successful. They have a natural humility that puts others at ease and inspires fearless creative thinking, problem-solving and collaboration.
Humility isn’t about minimizing your own accomplishments. Instead, it’s concerned with breaking down barriers and artifice. People in leadership positions can be naturally intimidating because of the “office” they inhabit. It’s important to give people the sense that you can be approached and that you believe every idea and suggestion is valid.
- Consistency in Behavior
All thought leaders must subscribe to a set of philosophies that has an undeniable internal logic. In other words, your actions — as well as your response to any given situation — shouldn’t stray far from what others have come to expect from you.
Think about all of the leaders and other figures who’ve seen their stardom dim after just one confrontation or just one indulgent public display. While anybody can have a bad day from time to time, one of a leader’s many jobs is to present a consistent, implacable resource for their organization and the people they’re trying to reach.
Confidence is vitally important for thought leaders, even if it can be difficult to balance with humility. You don’t want to be seen as pushy, but you also don’t want people thinking you’ve spent less time developing your skills, worldview, methods, philosophies, best practices, products, services or whatever else you have to offer than you actually have.
- Know How to Change Gracefully
Two things are true when you come to occupy a place of market or thought leadership:
- You’ll have to change someday.
- You’ll never be able to please everybody.
As an example, past decades of world commerce as well as more recent history with tech companies represent what happens when companies in leadership positions failed to maintain consistent identities or engaged in risky attempts at diversification that ultimately failed.
The lesson here is clear, even if the outcome differs. Knowing how to “evolve” with grace and humility, and even knowing when to admit to being wrong, is a leadership quality with probably universal appeal.
Finally, there’s authenticity. There are whole teams of social scientists and marketers whose jobs involve figuring out what people want, how they like being talked to and how to convince them to change their behavior or perform an action. At the end of the day, though, what most people seem to want above all else is a genuine connection.
The feeling of taking part in something authentic and genuine is the key to all human relationships — and quality relationships are the key to happiness, say Harvard researchers. This means that in word and deed, thought leaders must be people who’ve learned how to speak to others in a way that fosters mutual trust and curiosity.
Everything they do comes from the heart. And why shouldn’t it? No matter where we live or what we do, doesn’t everybody want fewer layers of artifice these days?
February 13, 2019 at 09:39AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs