Leadership has multiple facets. Four key areas have to be well developed to be considered a great leader in the corporate environment today. These four foundational cornerstones of leadership are result-leadership, people-oriented leadership, thought leadership, and leading self. When all four of these go hand in hand, the success projected is phenomenal.

A leader that has these four areas covered checks all the boxes from every study or school of thought. It does not have to be limited to only the executive layer. People in middle management or newer managers can also start evaluating their competency in these four areas of leadership to see where they stand. Let us delve deeper into thought leadership.

What is thought leadership?

The term thought leader has come into existence from the world of marketing. A thought leader is an entity, it could be a person or an organisation which is recognized as an authority in a particular specialised area. Their expertise is valued and respected in their field. They display and demonstrate their knowledge and proficiency in several ways like writing articles, blogs, white papers or books, speaking at various events like conferences and conventions, or participating in panel discussions.

Contrary to what people may believe, thought leadership is not about promoting one self. Thought leaders are people that can draw from the past, analyse the present, and make predictions for the future in their area of prowess. They often share an understanding that is current and derived from real-world situations. They possess the knack to contribute to the conversations happening today and at the same time chime in and debate on what may happen tomorrow. Their skill lies in the innate ability to recognise trends before they happen and apply those insights to educate and achieve business results.

Why are all experienced people not thought leaders? I coach several esteemed clients from varied industries. Most of them have so many insights and ideas from their years of experience that would be very valuable to others, but they hesitate in putting themselves out there in spite of wanting to. This reluctance springs from several reasons – lack of time, know how, or just not recognising the tremendous impact it could have on their careers and those of others around them.

Why thought leadership?

In current times, the need for corporate leaders to be thought leaders is almost mandatory. Millennials and Gen Z's want to be inspired by their leaders. They will stay engaged only if they can value and respect the people that they work for. The internet now provides several avenues and opportunities to showcase your ideas and knowledge. You have no excuse to not jump on this trend.

Thought leadership also goes hand in hand with building your personal brand. Use it as a means for personal growth and development.

How do you become a thought leader?

Developing your thought leadership takes time. Experience, expertise, and insights, plus a willingness to share can help grow you as a trusted figure in any domain. You must develop and rely upon your experiences and create credibility over the long term. No matter what your journey has been, it can be leveraged.

Leaders that have the skills to observe and connect data and information from several sources are usually well-equipped to create innovative concepts which have been informed by the needs of the marketplace. Credibility is responsible for combining their expertise with a dose of honesty, humility, and an appreciation for the human aspect of leading people.

While architecting your thought leadership may take time you have to start from where ever you are. Just begin – start with writing or speaking about a topic you feel confident and comfortable with. Often people are filled with self-doubt when they are faced with putting their thoughts out there. Some questions that arise within them are – Why will anyone want to know what I have to say? What if people disagree with me? What do I even write about? It must have been written by someone else before.

The truth is thought leadership invokes a certain vulnerability within you. To share your thoughts with a large number of unknown or even known people means, you have to be authentic and aligned within yourself for the truth to flow freely. The more in sync you are with your own self, knowledge and learning, the clearer is the voice and quality of your message. Yes, to indeed be considered to be a thought leader, you must have something fresh, unique, or radical to say. Have reasonable expectations from yourself in the beginning and start small. If you have never been part of a panel discussion before or never written before, begin by writing a short post in LinkedIn or the department newsletter.

Think about how you can display and showcase all that you have experienced and learned in your work life which may benefit others. Of course, most people do learn to walk before they can run so experiment with topics or platforms that give you a more positive response over others. The important thing is to build more confidence around putting yourself out there slowly. The high that you get from the response on the value or benefit of your thoughts is sure to urge you to contribute more.

Thought leadership is not about providing content. It is providing deeper service by humbling oneself to listen to and understand the needs of the people you are serving by sharing your mastery and creating greater awareness. This area of leadership is often most ignored because it can be harder and more intuitive than the other three areas mentioned in the beginning, however if you can leverage it you will elevate yourself to a path towards greater leadership.

Bhavna Dalal
Bhavna Dalal

Views are personal.

The author is the founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners a global Leadership Development company based in Bangalore. She is a Leadership Development Specialist, an ICF Certified Executive Coach [PCC] and author of the book - Team Decision Making.

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