Being a thought leader in a given industry, like real estate or law, means more than calling out the highest standards and best practices of the industry. It means having vision, and indicating where the industry really needs to go. Thought leadership is thought innovation. Thought leadership is transformative leadership. The first place and first priority for thought leadership is always ALWAYS yourself first, the team you surround yourself with next, and your company as a whole. You can’t credibly transform the outside world in your field unless you’re actively transforming your own organization, and helping the people within it transform themselves. It’s not enough to be a good company on some model you’ve already seen – that’s cloning, not thought leadership. You want to be what a company would be if it were free of the constraints of the merely normal. Thought leadership is not for the conventional, the conservative, or the faint of heart. If it’s for you, here are some ways to begin:
Be a Thought Leader By Choosing Radically Different Priorities
The e-myth is that most companies are started by thought leaders – ambitious entrepreneurs who want to change the world and make it better. In reality, most businesses are started by people with a professional skill, and their growth and survival depend on making a major shift toward being thought leaders. Nowhere is thought leadership more evident than in a company’s priorities. If you’re constantly focusing on completing the work at hand, and leave little room for growth, you’re fulfilling the e-myth. You’re acting like a technician – technically proficient at your work, but not visionary about growing a business. Thought leadership requires continually looking over the horizon and committing just as forcefully the time and resources needed for growth. Prioritize marketing as a core business process, schedule consistent and committed blocks of time for marketing (e.g. 10-14hrs a week), and empower those on your team with whatever authority and tools they need to make it effective.
Be a Thought Leader By Creating Leaders not Lackeys
Growth is never achieved by vesting all authority in a single leader. Look at North Korea! Growth occurs by creating many leaders in your company. This doesn’t mean more titles, lots of management overhead – quite the opposite. Trappings don’t equal leadership. It’s about empowering each staff member to make choices on their own, and then trusting and backing them when they make those choices. In digital marketing, that means they get say over content and are empowered to make connections as they see fit, because it’s all about content output and audience growth. Thought leaders plant other leaders wherever they go, starting first with their own organizations. This will be a challenge if you can’t accept leadership styles and methods that are different than your own. But thought leaders do – effective leaders do. They recognize that a mix of dispositions and approaches they can neither fully control nor understand are what takes their company to the next level. Thought leaders are skilled at letting go, and letting others carry the ball. They don’t insist on carrying every ball during every game and making all the goals themselves. Empower your team to act without your direct supervision, let go of control, don’t insist on being right, and insist that they own their sphere of activity. That will take your company to the next level, and free you up to replicate leadership and build a growth-driven business, not oversee minute details.
Be a Thought Leader By Creating a Culture of Continual Coaching & Training for EVERYONE – You Too
Thought leaders ensure others stretch their capabilities and grow as individuals. This is how they sustain their vision for a better industry and a better world. They encourage their staff to increase proficiencies so they are continually growing in their value to the company. The non-growing business views talent as static – it holds on to the talent it has – to people as they are – being satisfied not to lose them. The growing business asks the existing people to continually add new capabilities, and increase the company’s portfolio of talent without necessarily increasing the staff roster. Efficiency is therefore a key focus of thought leaders. Unless you encourage staff to become continually more proficient in new skills, continually more comfortable in new capabilities, it doesn’t free up enough additional time to re-invest in growth. And that means the company itself doesn’t grow as much, either. All these things are inter-related: a leader committed to blocking out time and resources for growth, an empowered staff that can make decisions the company will stand by – as leaders in their own right, and a culture of constantly getting better – getting coaching and training that ensures everyone gets better. For the thought leader, good is never good enough – the process of going ‘from good to great’ is continual. You *want* the journey, not the destination. Leaders also accept leadership – they never exempt themselves from coaching and training – they lead by stripping down and stepping up first, not reluctantly, and not staying back and standing on their title.
Be a Thought Leader By Continual Contribution
We mentioned the e-myth… business owners tend to say they work harder than anyone, and that might be true, but that’s not what their company actually needs for growth. Thought leaders aren’t focused so much on working as contributing. They might install that fixture, argue that case, close that deal – but their real focus is making sure everyone else in their company has what they need to be crazy effective. One example is content ideas for marketing – thought leaders are a fountain of perspective about what’s happening in their industry, and they need to make sure the content creators in their outfit (for the blog, social media, e-mail marketing, etc) are continually updated and aware. Contribute, as a SME (subject matter expert) and be a point of reference to get interviewed periodically by your content creators. Likewise, thought leaders make room for the things they *don’t* know. They don’t insist on control, let alone limiting the company’s ability to reach farther and do more by nixing anything they don’t understand. Thought leaders allow that *most* of the area into which their company will grow is territory that they inherently do not understand. It’s undiscovered county. The clients you have right now don’t reveal so much about the ones you *don’t* yet have; but those are the ones you’re trying to get. The unknowing space of being a thought leader means your staff are explorers and adventurers, and you get to be the Indiana Jones of your industry.
Be a Thought Leader By Creating a Culture of Transparency
The opposite of transparency is fear, and disempowerment. Search your company for areas where people feel unable to be 100% candid, state what they need, say what they think, demand their ideas be taken seriously, and act freely in their areas of responsibility, and you’ve discovered a failure to have transparency in that area. Guess who’s responsible for that? That’s what thought leadership is – you’re responsible. Some leaders will have a staff stand-up meeting at the beginning of each day, with all hands on deck. That’s crazy valuable and expensive time, so they limit it to 2-minutes for each person, especially themselves as setting the example, and anything that requires less than the whole team to be involved they agree to ‘take offline’ (save it for a smaller meeting for just those involved). They go from person to person and ask only these 3 questions: What have you accomplished since we last spoke? What are you working on now? What do you need from someone in this room? Again, you don’t get to actually *solve* or *answer* that need during the meeting – save that for ‘offline’. This is an example of the kind of “power huddle” that effective teams have when each person feels empowered to do what they’re assigned and safe asking for what they need. It’s a meeting in which everyone is a leader, the company’s success is the goal, and anyone can say what they need to achieve that goal and expect to get it. Thought leaders have meetings like that; coaches conduct meetings like that; most business owners don’t. See how this is an edge over your competition? Thought leaders are more than open – there’s more than a superficial “open door” policy; thought leaders are transparent and create transparency in their companies. If there’s no transparency – if people are afraid of making their boss angry, or of getting shot down for asking for what they need, or of being casually overruled in an area where they’e been assigned responsibility, then you are failing to lead. That’s tough talk, but it’s talk you’ll want to hear, because it gives you a clear choice between being powerful and achieving growth, or of winging it and guessing while the competition figures this stuff out.
Want leads? Then lead. Don’t just own a business. Be a thought leader. Leads come from consistency and integrity. In practical terms that means empowering your people, blocking out time, prioritizing marketing over business as usual, creating leaders, continually accepting and ensuring coaching, and creating a fully transparent work culture. Anything less is lip service. But you’re up for it. You have to be. Do more than own a company, own a growth machine.
If you need help with building your growth machine, contact MadPipe.