Becoming a thought leader with impact

On becoming a thought leader with impact

Do you ever read my column and disagree with what I have to say? This could be a good sign: you may be ready to take your place as a business thought leader.

If, even once, you have thrown down the newspaper or closed the browser in disgust, all the better. It means that you care enough to become a thought leader. An emotional reaction is a signal that you strongly believe in a different point of view. Maybe your contrary insight might be worth sharing with a wider audience.

If so, you need not be rich and famous to be the next Marcus Garvey, perhaps Jamaica’s foremost thought leader. Like he did, you can start with little more than a knowledge of how to use the latest technology. In his day, he established newspapers in several countries to share his content. By contrast, you could set up a free Facebook page in a few minutes.

However, that’s not likely to be enough. Garvey didn’t have a goal of being “an influencer” or being famous. His publications were the means to fulfill a much bigger vision. Take yourself to his level by following these steps.

1. Start Provoking

While you may not be prepared to write a book or give speeches to thousands, your smartphone affords you tremendous power to craft messages. What about finding an audience? Maybe they are just sitting in your social network waiting to hear what you have to say.

But what if you aren’t ready to formulate your initial thoughts into the written word, audio recordings or videos? One way to begin is to find and spread articles you agree or disagree with. Share, add your opinion and invite others to comment.

As you do so, consider this to be the start of your research and learning. Continue looking for quality evidence and the underlying academic publications that supports it.

Sometimes, you’ll discover nothing but opinions. Occasionally, you may bump into facts that contradict your pet ideas. Overturn them to fulfill your mission of finding the truths that help you make progress.

These are small steps, but the world won’t change until you start to engage it. Sharing and reacting to existing points of view brings your commitment out into the open, starting immediately.

2. Build Your Structure

Most people mistakenly believe that all you require to be a content creator is the right keyboard, audio recording device or video camera. While those are necessary elements, in today’s world they are simply insufficient to be effective.

Especially in these locked-down times, would-be thought leaders need a way to share their content, promote themselves to new audiences and manage their followers. The details of these three approaches are as follows.

– To deliver consistent messages you must specialize in a particular mode: text, audio or video. Why? It takes time to master a single one well enough to rise above the din and distractions your would-be followers face, even if you have world-class ideas. Fortunately, YouTube has all the education you need to move past the beginner stage of using these three modes.

– Some believe that they shouldn’t have to do very much promotion – “if you build it, they will come.” In other words, if the content is good enough, it should naturally attract people. This hope-for-the-best approach is unlikely to win attention. Instead, you must carefully define a strategy to promote your messages in a multi-channel world, each with its strengths and weaknesses. Experiment with each of the social networks, plus setting up your own website.

– Consider obtaining a Customer Relationship Management software system (like Mailchimp) to efficiently scale and automate your communication with your audience.

Recall a time when a typewriter was an essential piece of equipment. Think of these three elements in the same way: the hallmark of someone who is serious.

3. Focus on Results

As a budding thought leader you are likely to have multiple objectives. Pick an easy one to start with, such as the number of people who respond to your next article on Facebook. As you continue, you’ll define more sophisticated metrics that measure your impact.

As you may agree, being an effective thought leader in these pandemic times involves more than having new, fresh ideas. That’s just the beginning. While quality thoughts are essential, they are lost by themselves.

Today, the sad fact is that the smartest voice will not necessarily be heard above the distractions. Think of your “message delivery” skills as a critical partner to your creativity and you’ll start to confront the gaps in becoming a business thought leader with impact.

How to Persuade an Audience Productively

Do you have the challenge of persuading an audience in either a speech or the written word? Here’s a useful outline I have adapted for use in the background of my talks and articles, including this one.

Psychologists tell us that when people are being influenced by ideas, it’s just not a random activity. Instead, they follow a rather predictable process, especially in live gatherings. The core notion is that a group being influenced journeys from one psychological space to another, almost like running around the bases in softball, hitting each of them in sequence. Following this theory, here are four major phases to use, inspired by speaker-trainer Pete Vargas.

Hearts

The first phase of persuasive communication is designed to address an emotional need. Usually, at the very beginning, an attendee is preoccupied with a “Why should I listen?” question. While it can be logically explained, the best speakers/writers evoke an emotional response, starting with their very first words.

Some begin with a question designed to spur curiosity. Notice that I used this approach in this article; it happens to be the one I use most often. Others give a startling statistic or quote. A few are brave enough to tell stories.

Unfortunately, too many stammer out irrelevant pleasantries to “break the ice”: thanking various people, introducing themselves, dropping anecdotes. They mistakenly believe that it’s impolite to start with a bang.

Yet, this is the best moment to make a heart-to-heart connection, before phones take away people’s attention. If you can follow your opening by evoking their experience of the problem, and how you have struggled with it, all the better.

Finally, Jamaican listeners and readers yearn to connect with each other. Find a way to bridge the gap between members of your audience, taking away the anxiety of feeling as if they are alone.

This first phase ends when the emotional connection has been made. It could occupy 25% of the time available.

Heads

The next question people ask is related to your Big Idea – the “how”. This is the logic behind your thinking – the new approach you are advocating that they have never heard.

Here, you are building a fresh case. Use research data, historical facts, and stories to share ideas that can pierce their logical minds. Assume that they are usually a bit cynical: quick to dismiss your message to the “same-old-stuff” category.

Try to spend about 40-60% of your speech in this phase – it’s the one people will share with others and use to justify their future course of action. They may not mention how you made them feel, but they will remember data such as the percentages I have quoted in this article.

This phase ends when their heads are nodding with understanding, showing they are ready to move on.

Hands

Arguably, your call to action (which takes place in this phase) is the most practical part of your communication. Here, you appeal to your audience to act to fulfill the promise of your Big Idea.

As such, this is not the time to be subtle or obtuse. Instead, create a picture of their future selves and ask them to make a concrete, visible commitment. It could be an altar call, a book purchase, a website download or something that doesn’t involve you at all, such as a sequence of steps.

Once they have been asked to act, you have set the stage for a powerful ending.

Hearts

The final 10% is a return to emotions. This is where you can continue a personal story or ask them to envision the person they’ll be once they take action. If you are able to create a connection to the feelings evolved at the start, even better.

The point here is to summon the emotional commitment needed to be successful going forward. After all, you are setting them loose to try your Big Idea in the real world full of resistance, resignation and cynicism – even if it’s their own. They’ll need to be strong to avoid the friction and distractions involved with the introduction of anything new.

Consider this to be a serious challenge. At the heart of your need to persuade should be an authentic commitment to make a life-changing difference. As someone who has stepped up, hold yourself accountable and be a contribution.

In other words, don’t commit the error of “just” giving a “small speech” or a “few remarks”. Every time you stand in front of a microphone, or put pen to paper, you have a sacred duty. You are not just a noisemaker.

Instead, honour your wildest dreams in which your words help people transform their lives, even if you’re only delivering a wedding toast. After all, you only need a single person to respond postively to know that it was worth the effort.

How to Inspire “Paused” Employees

As a result of the pandemic and the recession, are many of your staff-members unconsciously “working-to-rule”? In other words, have they reverted to doing the minimum possible to keep their jobs? If so, what can you as an employer do to break them out of a dangerous rut which could drive your firm all the way into bankruptcy?

These are scary times, and with good reason. Here in Jamaica, COVID is spiking to unforeseen levels and as the death-toll mounts, even more people are testing positive. Furthermore, the economy faces poor predictions as we enter the traditional slowdown of the tourist season. Arguably, business confidence is at its lowest ever.

Consequently, most of your employees are probably stalled. Confronted by bad news and distracted by children who would normally be in school, they are overwhelmed. Laying awake at night, they are pre-occupied by the need to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

It seems only natural: in response to a threat, you should focus on defending yourself. However, when the threat is enduring, there’s a limit to how well a good defense works. Case in point: you can’t win the football World Cup by only preventing goals from scoring. Plus, deep within the human spirit lies a steady force that drives us to do more than just survive.

Unfortunately, few corporate leaders know how to transcend the “survival” stage of the pandemic. With each spike, they reset their companies’ attention to the usual: social distancing, wearing masks and working from home. But there will always be spikes…for now. A vaccine won’t make its way to our citizens for several years.

In the meantime, your company may just go out of business.

Instead of waiting and resetting every few months, how can you take your employees out of the “pause”?

1. Think Big

A few years ago, the US Coast Guard had such a challenge. The world was changing rapidly and its old operating mode as the first-responder to sea-based emergencies was no longer working. The threats it faced were now organized: some by terrorists and others by global forces such as climate change.

The organization needed to take into account incipient trends, then rise far above them. As opposed to merely reacting, it needed to shape long-term outcomes. That could not happen in the short term.

Instead, the organization developed a decades-long scenario in which it transformed itself, creating a new, influential role in the future. From that end-point, it worked back to today, resulting in a difficult re-organization impacting thousands.

But my experience leading Jamaican companies planning tells me that the articulation of a vision isn’t enough. To some degree, we are immune from such leader-talk courtesy of politicians. Now your people are, quite rightly, skeptical of bombast.

They should be.

Research shows that overblown visions of the future can be de-motivational. Why? When a goal is too far out of people’s reach, they give up, asking themselves, “Should I waste time on a failure?”

2. Be Fact-Based and Realistic

The first way out of this dilemma is to create a numbers-oriented map of the journey from the future back to the present. Such a chart is quite difficult to craft, but it starts by defining a specific year for your goal, such as our own “Vision Jamaica 2030”.

Furthermore, it must show how critical metrics such as top line revenue, EBITDA and market share need to change to accomplish your end-point. Plus, it needs to capture qualitative milestones. Finally, projects and interventions which take months or years to implement should be added in and synchronized with the other targets.

The end-result is a detailed picture of the journey your organisation must take from now until the stated year of your vision.

Some would say that such detail is likely to be “incorrect”, and they are right. This is not an exercise in prediction or accuracy. Instead, it’s meant to galvanize your organization with not only a destination, but a realistic means of reaching it.

Why is this activity important to employees? Without this level of specificity, they won’t buy-in, and will simply add the goal to their mental list of empty promises. This is the problem with overarching, vague vision statements. They have stopped working because people are immune to the optimism of “world-class” pronouncements which are more ignorant than credible.

One way to tackle this challenge is to involve all your staff in your data gathering. After all, this is their future you are crafting. Take care to address all the facts and assumptions they deem important.

The fact is, in these difficult times people want to be inspired…but moreover, they don’t want to be disappointed by a CEO’s pipe-dream. Focus on creating a vision that’s realistic and you’ll replace their unwanted fears with a motivation that enlivens and lifts them to extraordinary achievement.