Finding Your Thought Leaders

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;

Expertise

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.

Leading Change

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.

Communication Skills

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?

Importance

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

Image: The Thinker  |  Christopher Brown  |  CC BY-2.0

 

Who is a Thought Leader?

The concept of thought leadership has been around for a few years, long enough to attract its own stand-up comedy character.

Thought leaders can have important role in positioning your company or organisation, in a series of three posts I’m going to provide;

  1. a definition of thought leadership, with examples
  2. the benefits of thought leaders and how to identify them in your organisation or industry
  3. guide on positioning thought leaders in your company or organisation

So what does “Thought Leader” mean? Wiki gives the definition;

A thought leader can refer to an individual or firm that is recognised as an authority in a specialised field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.

A true thought leader will have a solid base of expertise, skills in communicating with the relevant audience, ideas about the future, and be driving that future.

It’s a tough position to fill, so who qualifies as a thought leader? Some examples will help.

Humanitarian; Malala Yousafzai

The youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, the girl who famously took a bullet in order to go to school. Malala now lives in the UK and continues to campaign for education and other rights for girls and women.

Innovation; Elon Musk

Founder of Pay-Pal, Tesla Cars, and responsible for landing big ideas.  I saw him interviewed at the Dublin Web Summit and was immediately impressed by the scale of his vision

Business; Sheryl Sandberg

The COO of Facebook and the first women to join their board, her book Lean In has inspired a movement of Lean In circles supporting women’s growth in business.

Investment; Warren Buffet

Buffet’s rules for investing well have become famous, some can be applied to business or even more generally to life. He’s one of the founders of the Giving Pledge, where very wealthy people pledge to give away at least half of their wealth.

Environment; Ellen MacArthur

MacArthur famous for sailing solo, non-stop around the world as the fulfilment of her childhood dream. She now campaigns for economic reform to sustain our environment, the Circular Economy.

Most of these are household names, but a thought leader may be less broadly known, but well-known, and sought after, in their field.

 

Next Week; Finding Your Thought Leaders

Image: The Thinker  |  Christopher Brown  |  CC BY-2.0