These are strange times, folks. Never have opportunities been so plentiful, yet never has business been so fiercely competitive. Customers are more knowledgeable than ever about their business requirements, and bizarrely this coincides with a determination to hold onto every penny they can for as long as they can.
Unfortunately, the customer doesn’t always know as much as they think they do, and they are sometimes swayed by the wrong people spouting the wrong information. You might find it annoying when the other guy (who doesn’t know as much as you and isn’t as clever as you) gets all the attention and all the business. Well, I have good news and bad news for you. The bad news is that it’s all about perception. And the good news is that it’s all about perception. The person or company that is seen to be the leader reaps tremendous rewards. So, logic says that you would do well to be seen to be a leader in the industry.
Good managers and directors are excellent problem solvers, and the very best ones, the real leaders, position themselves as proactive strategists within the business, participating in top level decisions and leading the way with confidence and ease. The way they do that is by adding more and more value, focusing on real business issues and offering new and unique approaches to everyday situations and challenges.
It is in part a political game, realigning one’s position from someone to dump problems on, to a trusted advisor or even a visionary. Some people in other departments and even some customers are simply not used to seeing you that way, so it will involve a bit of a sales job as well. And in order to do that, you will need to create your content and key messages so you have something to say to people. Real leaders only get to play the political game when they have something to say, a well-formed idea or an interesting viewpoint.
I have seen many top business leaders create enormous success for themselves by taking the time to think through what I call their thought leadership strategy. ‘Thought leader’ is a term usually reserved for the top people in an industry, those who have innovative ideas and share them widely, gaining recognition from their mentors, peers and market. It is generally used retrospectively, after someone has contributed something remarkable to their field. I believe that thought leadership can also be strategic if you take the time to do the proper thinking and follow a good process. Personally, I think it is the only way to stand out and be recognised, so I believe it is worth doing. As I mentioned before, if you don’t do it, someone else probably will and then you will possibly kick yourself. What follows are my best tips and techniques if you want to position yourself as the thought leader in your field.
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First, you need to ask yourself what area of the business you are most passionate about. Drill down to find the most specific topic you can. People often think that they need to be experts in everything, but actually not only is that impossible, it also muddies the water and dilutes everything across a huge range of topics. If you have experience in many different areas or topics, no one is going to be able to pigeon hole you. And guess what, people want to pigeon hole you. They can’t keep track of ten different areas of expertise and would rather associate you with one. They want to be able to say ‘he is the absolute expert direct sales’ or whatever it may be. You quickly gain credibility when you focus on one area, and you can command more attention and more money as well. What are the specific solutions or products that you know more about than most people? It would probably be a good idea to be more vocal about those.
Then you need to get opinionated. Nobody is interested in hearing the same old, same old things that everyone is saying. Do you feel strongly about certain parts of your job, or a business application? Have you got an idea that you would love to share with the market? Let’s put it another way. Is there something your competitors are saying that you know is not true? Have you got a view, the more controversial the better, on a major issue? Get thinking and figure out what you have to say that could add value to the customer’s business. You want to put together some key messages that help people see you are a true leader in your field.
Finally, you need to create a plan to disseminate your ideas into the market. Traditionally, this involved writing articles and full-length books, but recently we have seen the advent of ebooks, blogs, videos, podcasts, Twitter and many other vehicles for sharing information and views. A published book is still highest in the pecking order of credibility builders, but most people think they haven’t got the time or are not capable of writing a whole book. Having worked with hundreds of experts to help them bring their books to life, I can assure you that if you do the previous two steps properly, it is very easy to write an excellent book in just a few months, part time. In the meantime, you will have created your content and deliverables plan, and can begin blogging and publishing articles in advance of the full-length book. When you are confident about your message, everything will be congruent and cross-fertilise the other communications you put out into the market. When you really get it right, people will start talking about you and be attracted to you because they have heard and read your important ideas. You will be perceived as the true leader I know you already are.
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