A “thought leadership” status is great for business and marketing. It positions you as an authority, and gives you an edge when it comes to scoring publicity opportunities, or charging a premium for your services.
Good news is, being a “thought leader” is not just the playing field for the “bigwigs.”
The world is a big place. There is enough for us to carve out a little piece of our pie, and claim our expert status without being the “household names” in our industry.
Let’s start with a bike ride…
Before kids came along, I used to ride my bike 63 miles from Manhattan to Nyack, NJ every Sunday to Runcible Spoon, a café with the highest proportion of spandex-wearing customers.
Then for 6 years, I pretty much hung up my bike.
When we moved to Marin County in the SF Bay Area about 10 weeks ago, I got back on the saddle.
I ride for “recreation”, and never trained seriously. Can you imagine my surprise when Strava showed that I was the FASTEST woman in 2015 to ride a pretty challenging 18-mile segment around Mt. Tamalpais?
This accidental “crown” led me to think how we can claim a thought-leader position in our businesses…
We don’t have to be #1 in the biggest category.
We don’t have to butt-head with the bigwigs.
We don’t have to be the fastest, biggest, and baddest in order to become a thought leader.
… and it turns out we may just be able to learn a thing or two from my bike ride:
1. Claim Your Space/Category
15 women registered on Strava have ridden that segment in 2015. It’s specific. it’s not a crowded field.
It’s much easier to “compete” in that category of 15, than in the “All Time” category of 1,205 riders who have attempted the course since the beginning of Strava days (I rank 351 among them,) or in one of those more “popular” beaten paths.
It’s about focusing on the ONE thing you want to be known for, and work it.
But it’s not about making something up and calling yourself the mayor of your-own-backyard-ville.
Note that the segment has been mapped out, and there are people riding it.
I did not go to my back patio, draw a course of circles and crown myself. Nobody else has access to my backyard, nor care.
Your category needs to have relevance to the outside world (aka your community). It needs to be focused, and meaningful.
2. Go for the Long Haul
Many can hammer a 3-mile flat, but there are fewer who want to go steady for 18 miles (half of which is climbing some grueling 7% hills) at a consistent pace.
Chart a course and set your eyes on a leadership position you can achieve through consistent work and sustained effort.
When you find something that taps into your conviction, something you can stand behind, then you can do it day-in-day-out until you break out (overnight success is overrated.)
“Leadership” position and fads (or bright shiny objects) don’t mix – if you want to make a quick buck and then jump ship that’s fine by me, to each his own. But you probably won’t be able to stick with that ONE thing long enough to be known for it.
3. Tap Into Your Strength
At 107lb with a 16lb bike, I have an advantage when it comes to climbing. Gravity doesn’t have a whole lot on me.
I do better in putting consistent effort to climb relentless grueling hills, than sprinting.
And guess what that segment is all about? CLIMBS!
Know your strengths, and what makes you tick. Structure your business, marketing and promotional activities around them.
When you tap into your superpowers and use them to your advantage, you will be more efficient and effective. You will be doing things in a way that makes you stand out (without looking like you are trying too hard) – “flair” is charismatic.
4. Embrace Your “Base Training”
I wasn’t sitting on my bum bum eating Doritos during the past 6 years.
I practiced yoga, went to indoor cycling class, ran and hiked consistently. I created a “base” on which I could quickly build on.
My body didn’t scream “What the @#$*&%$($#/*” when I got back on the saddle.
All of your past trainings, experiences and skills count. They contribute to who you are today, and when you pull all these together to support the expression of your conviction and message, you create something unique and valuable to those you serve.
That makes you stand out, and help you carve out a space, declare that ONE thing you want to be known for, and claim it with confidence.
5. Give a Shit, Do the Work, Show Up and Trust
After I decided on the route, I rode it like I meant it.
I didn’t stop before every bump to wonder if I should turn back because the climb looked steep. I didn’t stop at every intersection and wonder about an alternative course.
I trusted that I had the ability to ride up those hills by going right left right left on the pedal.
When you chart a course and map out a plan, sometimes you have to trust that you have it in you to do what’s necessary.
You can’t stop at every challenge and wonder if you should change course. You can’t stop at every bright shiny object and wonder if you should overhaul your tactics. (Tip: having a clear message and strong conviction helps create a filter so you can select the right strategies and tactics with discernment.)
Otherwise, you will be running around in circles, take detours, and never get to your destination.
You just have to show up and trust – give a shit, do the work – because if you don’t show up fully, how can you expect your peeps to show up for you?
6. Don’t Stress It
The possibility of being the “fastest” among all the very strong riders in the area didn’t even entered my mind.
I went for my usual ride, and did what I intended to – move the body, spend time outside, and enjoy the ride.
Enjoy the ride.
There are more important things than “a 6-figure income” or one-upping the other guy in that Facebook group. Obsessing about arbitrary numbers can stress you out.
If you dig my stuff, I am pretty sure you went into business for more than making a quick buck.
What’s your WHY? What is it that you want to gain from the PROCESS of building something that helps you express who you are?
When you anchor your WHY in the world, when you apply your value, conviction and personality to a specific set of people, you carve out a space you can claim (see #1.)
When you gauge your success through internal measures rather than some arbitrary yardstick defined by someone else, you can stick to your guns and be immune to the Bright Shiny Object Syndrome (see #2 and #4.)
When you find your place in this bigger picture and settle into the process of CREATING MEANING, you get the drive without the stress.
When you CREATE MEANING instead of regurgitate other people’s stuff, you unique point of view will naturally lead to a unique positioning that makes you a thought leader for your peeps.
Leadership is not artificially created by slapping those ABC NBC logos on your profile picture. It emerges when you have steadfast conviction and dig in.
When you give a crap about what you stand for, the passion and excitement put behind your communication will attract like-minded followers to you.