“Leaders become great not because of their power but their ability to empower others" - John Maxwell
During such pressing times of COVID-19, there looms the dark shadow of uncertainty. Besides the unpredictability that hounded the lives of certain groups of people like the unemployed during pre-COVID times, the pandemic has successfully ensured this uncertainty is engulfed for a larger section of the world population with respect to life, employment, salaries, etc. No clairvoyant or time machine can precisely tell us how tomorrow will unfold. Humanity has probably never been prey to such ambiguity, all at the same time.
What is extremely crucial during such times is to maintain our composure lest the anxiety kicks in. People all over the world are striving to maintain a balanced state of their mental health whilst adjusting themselves to the constant change they witness each day in various settings. Despite easing ourselves out, humans are born to function with a certain amount of predictability. They like to know that their day superficially stays the same - wake up, get to work, socialize with colleagues, work hard to climb the upper rungs of the organizational ladder, get back home, spend family time and call it a day.
Now, all of a sudden, this whole pattern has been disrupted by an element invisible to the naked eye and that’s what is causing so much worry. Not knowing what the future - both near and distant holds for us. At some point, we long for a reality check, however bad it’s going to turn out. We look for sources that provide us information in a random way, be it news, friends and family or untrue WhatsApp forwards. The fact that we know something now; we never did before, is something ingrained in us and that we are born to chase after.
What is Thought Leadership?
It is during such times that humans need quality advice - a mix of realism and optimism. Opinions from every Tom, Dick and Harry can often leave them confused, thus bringing them back to square one. What is imperative during such times is to seek information that is authentic and credible. And this comes from years of experience in a particular field of work. It requires diving deep into probabilities that might arise in the future, weighing them and accordingly making the best decision. And for this reason, the catch phrase that has been much spoken about during the pandemic is ‘Thought Leadership’.
“Thought leadership is not about being known. It is about being known for making a difference" - Anonymous
Indeed, Thought Leadership is just another corporate buzzword but it has a noteworthy, deeper meaning on various levels. Thought leaders are the well-informed opinion leaders in their particular field of expertise. Being the go-to people in their specific sector, they are trusted sources who move and inspire others with innovative ideas. Their creative and communicative skills have the capacity to turn ideas into a reality. In order to replicate a company’s success even during extreme crisis times like the one we are living in now, they create a dedicated group of friends, fans and followers to help them duplicate their ideas into sustainable, positive change not just in one company but across an entire ecosystem.
Everyone can benefit with a piece of advice about the Future of Work, and this is primarily why Thought Leadership is becoming much spoken about today than ever, amidst this mass infection. With adjustments and changes around us being the norm, thought leaders are also changing the world in meaningful ways by motivating and engaging others to join their endeavors. They not just urge others to be open-minded about new ways of thinking but also create evolutionary and revolutionary advancements in their areas of expertise.
“Don’t tell me about the positions you’ve held, tell me about the problems you’ve solved" - Elon Musk
They are the leaders who create a blueprint, inclusive of methods, processes, steps and guidelines for followers to easily navigate their route. With an aim to build a platform that codifies the steps necessary to follow in their footsteps, thought leaders ensure others align and build on their success. There is evidence of the fact that they are not professionals who people resort to since they tweak around the edges of efficient functioning, but instead create a foundation for others to build on.
It goes without saying that thought leaders exist in every field - be it social services, business management or politics. Come from any background or community, their shape, age, gender and ethnicity don’t determine who can or cannot be a thought leader. It is a position that is upheld solely on merit, talent, innovation and foresight. That being said, not everyone can become a thought leader. Acquiring skills and competencies to become one takes time, sometimes years, in a particular niche. It also requires an individual to be accepting of change and having a flexible nature, besides possessing a certain level of commitment and a willingness to change the status quo and the way things have always been done.
“The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example" – John Wooden
It is a known fact that the route to being a successful thought leader becomes easier should the individual already have a great product built, a service, an initiative or a company’s program that stands apart from the crowd. Because of the fact that the person already has something well established and he can pitch it to people and has something to talk about with ease, the person is more likely to garner people’s attention for success sooner, since he is an epitome of it in the past.
By having essential skills like communication and collaboration, etc. ingrained in them, they work with individuals who are talented in their own area of expertise but have not yet created something worthwhile, that they can call their own. Should you have the zest to willingly do the work you’re an expert in, codify the knowledge and information you’ve received in years of experience and have the patience and fortitude to build momentum over time, you can surely become a thought leader in your niche!
Thought leadership is the key that unlocks a whole new level of professional accomplishment and achievement alongside career and personal satisfaction. For those seeking to enhance their strategic visibility skills i.e. making oneself visible by standing with other people who matter, then thought leadership is one of the easiest paths to achieve that. Thought leaders are beacon lights who influence people at large to attract customers for their products. Often called ‘Rainmakers’, they are at the crux of a business with their indirect contributive potential resulting in company successes.
Whether it is seeking out the right clients for your products or a good audience followership for your blogs, partners for your companies, leaders for your books or funders for your projects, thought leaders have a crucial role to play in business management. They indeed have something for people of every sub-field, interest and level in the hierarchy.
Thought leadership sets to achieve successes in business in a holistic way. It leads to addressing ideas both inside and outside the organization. Besides providing access to other individuals who help in materializing goals, innovators in the respective profession or industry and researchers in government or regulatory circles, thought leaders have the power to persuade, the status and authority to redirect things in a new direction and the clout to implement real progress and widespread innovation.
It is a natural human tendency to want to be affiliated with people in the higher rungs of the business ladder. Thought leaders ensure this takes place by giving out invitations to join corporate boards and participate in industry-wide committees. What’s more? They upscale your business strategies to a whole new level by providing their clients with opportunities to raise their profile from the local to the national and finally to the international stage!
Working behind the scenes doesn’t mean they are any less accountable or responsible for a company’s growth. From the back, they prioritize the company’s issues as their own so much so that they encourage and support others to become thought leaders in their own right by being a role model.
Most importantly, they help individuals answer the deep, philosophical questions of why am I here? What is the meaning in my work? What is my purpose? What will I leave behind? By bringing about change in a gradual way, they ensure the meaningful shift that has been brought about lasts even after the leader is gone. Hoping to create consistent teams having a lasting legacy, they focus on transforming teams, communities, industries, systems and governments.
Being a thought leader seems easy, doesn’t it? Truth be told, it’s not. Moreover, there are additional risks that follow with assuming this role.
Thought leaders are in the spotlight, taking some pretty painful arrows. Besides, the journey from leader to thought leader is also an internal dialogue – one that often requires some soul searching and the person who is ready to lead the way. With a lot of people relying on the thought leader, he/she cannot afford to make huge blunders.
A good example to encourage people in becoming thought leaders of the future would be the image of the cat that looks at itself in a mirror only to see a lion. This image is a perfect depiction of showing that even the calm and docile are very capable of assuming high positions of immense responsibility and transforming into a majestic force. Every thought leader has been that cat looking at itself in the mirror. Should they have not aspired enough, given themselves targets to achieve, they wouldn’t have landed in the position of a thought leader as they have today!
“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is a danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership." - Nelson Mandela
Today, amidst this crisis, the work that thought leaders do is extremely relevant for the future. They seem to be the only ones who have a fathomable response to the endless list of questions that both employers and employees have. Often called the clairvoyants in the corporate space, they are much in demand today than ever. Their realistic foresight shared with people around the world is what gives the latter a certain amount of respite from the constant negative news they receive about lay-offs, etc.
Capitalizing on online platforms that are easily accessible by all, thought leaders are making themselves available on virtual panel discussions and are addressing every possible topic, giving people the opportunity to unrestrictedly ask questions for better clarity. Making their services available at such a pressing time is something that they indeed, need to be lauded for. Irrespective of geography, every aspiring employee or employer can benefit from their tutelage that is bound to be a dozen times better researched, replete with substantial evidence and believable rather than untrue or half information that is frequently circulated otherwise.
Achieving this level of leadership and delivering the same for aspiring thought leaders is a whole different ballgame and should never be futile. By making optimal use of the resources available, by following global thought leaders’ advice on how workplaces, strategies and work styles shall evolve in the near and distant future, we are sure to get a fair idea on what to expect ahead of us. It not just eases out the anxiety that is rampant due to quarantine, but also provides us with rich and fruitful information, making our time worthwhile today and tomorrow.
The pandemic has taught us to be thankful for the social interactions we have with each other in person. It has also taught us to not take things for granted. Right now, the best we can do is to make the most of the resources available so that the future is better planned and easier to handle. It’s time we become epitomes of the famous quote, ‘We all have two lives. The second one starts when we realize that we only have one”!