Forbes: Three ways to differentiate yourself as a thought leader

Forbes: Three ways to differentiate yourself as a thought leader

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Irma Becerra is president of Marymount University, a comprehensive doctoral-granting university known for its innovative curriculum.

For many years I researched the topic of knowledge management, how organizations manage their intellectual assets via processes and technologies that support the discovery, capture, sharing and application of knowledge. The field of study was spurred by the recognition that in our knowledge economy, knowledge is a new type of asset that doesn’t get depleted when shared like other material assets. In the knowledge economy, it is widely accepted that influential thought leadership equates to tremendous credibility and clout, but did you know it could be even more powerful in an economic downturn?

Compellingly written and data-backed thought leadership content is more than just smart content marketing—it is a highly effective business strategy for corporate executives and industry leaders. It takes individuals roughly 10 years of active practice to become domain experts. For those who worked hard to build their knowledge and insights, becoming a recognized thought leader is an excellent way to share their expertise. Becoming a top industry expert takes work, but the ROI is worth investing time and energy.

Top thought leaders who stay ahead of industry trends and share valuable insights can drive innovation. Even though in the past some experts may have chosen to “hoard” their knowledge since “knowledge is power,” sharing knowledge is the mechanism to become a thought leader. Becoming a successful leader requires making many smart choices and developing the skills to advance. Sharing these leadership lessons is valuable for those following in your footsteps. Influential thought leadership calls for consistently and generously sharing what you know.

If thought leadership is high on your priority list, here are three things to keep front of mind:

Build your brand from the bottom up.

To become a go-to leader in your industry, build your reputation within your organization first. Be a leader your teams turn to for knowledge and guidance and one they can trust. Be true to your word and act with integrity. Leadership calls for making difficult decisions, often under stressful conditions. At times of heightened stress, those you lead will look to you for reassurance and answers. It is in those moments that great leaders rise to the occasion.

We must be the courageous leaders our organizations need to survive tumultuous times—think rapid decision-making and pivoting in new directions with no roadmap. Leadership is always challenging, but steering organizations through the global pandemic was unimaginably brutal. In the spring of 2020, my university had to shut its doors and switch from on-campus instruction to remote learning. Almost overnight, our students, faculty and staff looked to me and our leadership team for answers to hundreds of questions.

We immediately got to work and assessed the situation, and ensured everyone that our organization would survive this once-in-a-lifetime catastrophic event. Based on research in disaster management, we formed rapid action teams, and we met daily to brainstorm ideas and tackle the obstacles facing students pursuing degrees. Our leadership team handled urgent demands never before encountered by our organization regarding logistics, communication and connectivity. Each day brought new and complex challenges; pivotal leadership was necessary for our organization to thrive under incredibly challenging circumstances.

I am thankful for the lessons learned during the global pandemic. My organization is stronger for having tackled what then seemed to be daily fires. Through hard work, sacrifice and collaboration, I grew exponentially as a leader through an incredibly challenging time.

Look for the opportunities in every crisis.

The global pandemic pushed many leaders to a breaking point. Those who perceived obstacles as building blocks fared better at managing difficulties brought about by the seismic shifts in business.

When our students expressed frustration and irritation over the many disruptions associated with remote learning, we listened and showed empathy. Still, we knew there would be many lessons our students would learn along the way. Empathy, compassion and courage are crucial when leading an organization in a crisis. It’s important to focus on communication during times of crisis. From Zoom meetings, daily conference calls with teams and town hall meetings with communities, you can learn much about what truly matters in your organization. Doing so can open new lines of communication and spark many interesting conversations.

One final point: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable while leading during crises.

Embrace transformative change.

Observe where the world is going and decide what is needed to keep your organization moving in the right direction. Seek to understand what change is needed, why and, most importantly, the long-term impact of tough decisions on your organization.

For success, stay humble, be bold and keep your eyes on the future when making leadership decisions. Stand firm when taking action to bring significant change. Leadership can be challenging in periods of transformation; being uncomfortable is the price you pay for progress.

The greater the shakeup when pivoting in a new direction, the more you will experience resistance from those within and outside your organization. Understand not everyone will agree with your decisions or understand your vision. Rapid pivoting and difficult decisions are often necessary to move an organization into optimal and sustainable growth. You can lead your organization through tumultuous times when you respond to challenging crises with a proactive and adaptive approach despite disruptive signaling from others.

In business, strategically embracing change instead of resisting it can bring great results. Still, transformative change often involves working through difficult periods and overcoming obstacles. Therefore, encourage and reward your teams for their support as you courageously pivot in a new direction.

A few final thoughts…

Becoming a thought leader can catapult your leadership to new heights and radically increase your brand reputation. Equally important, it benefits your organization and audience, who will be all the more informed, inspired and educated by your shared knowledge.

To succeed and become the leaders those in your industry turn to for deep insights and expertise, build credibility by publishing high-quality content. And, by all means, proudly step up and own your hard-earned expertise!