Seven Steps to Thought Leadership

Companies that boast a workforce of thought leaders tend to be more successful, but the CEO must show the way. Here’s a road map to thought leadership.

Thought leaders use knowledge and expertise to change the world. They add their voice to the conversation and they motivate followers. They understand it is not about being known; it is about being known for making a difference. As such, it is a role for which chief executives are uniquely positioned.

Becoming a thought leader is not a quick or easy journey, but the benefits are worth it. At a recent global conference call sponsored by Women’s YPO Network, Denise Brosseau, author of “Ready to Be a Thought Leader?” and adjunct faculty at Stanford Business School, reported that a company-wide culture of thought leadership builds credibility for the business, establishes the organization as a great place to work, makes the industry better through shared expertise and grows market share.

Tone is set at the top, so a company’s culture of thought leadership begins with the company’s leader. Here are Brosseau’s seven core principles to map the chief executive’s path to thought leadership.

Find your driving passion

This vision will galvanize you into action, and keep you motivated over the long term. It is often configured as a “what if” question: What if we could help companies get ready for the shift to a millennial-driven workforce? What if we could deliver clean water where it’s needed? The drive to find an answer to this question in fact may be what drove you to start your own company or take your current role.

Build ripples of influence

You will need help on this journey, so start getting others on board. Gradually extend your reach bit by bit, just as ripples emanate outward from a pebble dropped in water. Demonstrate your passion and share it with others. Craft a succinct, compelling message and stick to it consistently.

Activate your advocates

Make connections with as many influencers as possible. Then, give them a task. Do not feel you have to be the sole carrier of the message; empower others to carry your ideas forward. Brosseau characterizes the goal in this phase as understanding that it is “not a one-to-one nor a one-to-many conversation. It’s a many-to-many conversation.”

Put your “I” on the line

This is difficult for many people. It calls for overcoming self-imposed limits on stepping into spotlight. It involves risk: You are putting your reputation on the line to espouse a new future and push for change. Some may worry that others will think they are showing off or are being self-promoting. Others will question whether they have the credentials to speak out on the topic. Disregard that internal voice that advises against stepping forward. Brosseau counsels, “It’s OK to be a reluctant leader. Think of what you’re doing as being less a ‘sage on the stage’ and more a ‘guide from the side.’”

Codify your lessons

Capture what you have learned in answering your “what if” question and share that information with others. Creating and offering a replicable model or blueprint can inspire and empower others. If you have trouble distilling your ideas into actionable steps, try writing a book; it can be an effective way to focus your thinking.

Put yourself on shout

Get the word out. Make yourself discoverable. If you are not already active on social media, look into it. It can be very helpful in making you known for your expertise. Aim for creating dialogues, not monologues, and focus on moving the conversation forward. You do not have to have thousands of ideas; focus on one good idea, supported by how you have addressed it. Stick to what you know and care about.

Incite (r)evolution

Take what you have learned and accomplished and start expanding your traction, from local to regional, from national to international. Be willing to pass the baton to others to build on their areas of influence. Define metrics and measure your progress along the way. How do you know if or when you are successful? Remember, the journey is long, so take time to celebrate accomplishments along the way.

YPO is the global leadership community of more than 29,000 chief executives in 130 countries who are driven by the belief that the world needs better leaders. Each of our members have achieved significant leadership success at a young age. Combined, they lead businesses and organizations contributing USD9 trillion in annual revenue. YPO members become better leaders and better people through peer learning and exceptional experiences in an inclusive community of open sharing and trust.