In the first post of this series on thought leaders I wrote about defining thought leaders and gave some well-known examples. Today I’m going to suggest ways to identify thought leaders in your company or organisation.
So what are we looking for? here are my criteria for a thought leader;
Your thought leader needs to have expertise in their field in order to be credible to any audience. Looking at the examples of thought leaders from last weeks post all five people have expertise in their field.
Most often this expertise is clear from their track record, as is the case of Warren Buffet, Sheryl Sandberg and Elon Musk.
Sometimes the credibility comes out of personal experience;
Malala Yousafzai is a teenager, her message is not wildly new, but she has enormous authority to call for equal rights for girls in education because of her own fight to have an education.
Ellen MacArthur is most known as a sailor, and it was on one of her solo global circumnavigation re realised that human’s impact on the world needs to change and she now devotes herself to the circular economy.
Thought leaders really need to be leading change, either by leading a programme of change or holding a role of accountability in your company or organisation. This builds their credibility but also means that they have something interesting to say on their field.
Thought leaders communicate ideas, to inspire and convince the audience, so strong communication skills are essential. Your thought leaders need to be able to connect with their most relevant audience and they need to be able to convey the your company’s values and mission to an audience unrelated to your business. If you’re a tech company can they speak with passion about technology to non-tech people?
Thought leaders need to be working on and thinking about the thing that’s most important to your company. If you’re a healthcare company it’s innovation in healthcare, if you’re an NGO it could be policy development, if you’re a product company it’s your designers.
Begin by looking for someone who is leading change; perhaps the woman who challenges the status quo, or the guy with stealth project that turn out to make money.
Most often the person will have a senior role, either in their organisation structure or in the scope of projects they lead, simply because to have the credibility of thought leader across audiences. However the person will also need to be a representative of your brand; if you’re a youth fashion brand for example look for someone young and cool, who embodies the brand’s style.
Who gets called to speak at conferences? People who are thought leaders in your company may already have been found as speakers for events.
It’s a tricky combination of skills, knowledge and character to find, and you really want just one per business or perhaps per geography. Thought leaders are rare and valuable.
Next Week; Positioning Thought Leaders