If you’re like me, you’ve seen the term “thought leader” mentioned in thousands of posts and articles this past year alone. To address the need for help in this area, I’ve recently added a new dimension to my consulting work revolving around helping people develop their authentic thought leadership. It involves supporting experts to refine their ideas and services and expand their impact with their core messages.
What I’m doing through this work with others, I find, is exactly the same process I started 10 years ago when I longed to be in the national conversation about women’s career challenges, helping to move the needle for women. When I look back, however, I see all the painful mistakes I made on that journey, and I recognize this brutal truth: I just wasn’t ready at that time to create what I longed for, and I didn’t know how to go about it in an effective way.
I’ve learned this fact – that before you can have a large impact on others, you have to first understand yourself intimately and do the work of empowering yourself, growing and stretching to the highest and deepest level you can. You need to “get hip to your own trip” and learn where you habitually trip yourself up, and stumble as you put yourself out there in the world. And you need to recognize exactly how you thwart your own process of obtaining the very things you desperately long for in your life.
Years ago, I read somewhere that celebrities in our world are able to “hold and emanate vast amounts of energy.” I believe that’s true. To become authentic thought leaders and powerful catalysts for change, too, we have to stretch our “vessels” larger every day to be able to hold and emanate energy in ways that we currently cannot. But how do we do this?
People ask me, “Kathy, how do I build my thought leadership in the way that will help me find my career bliss?” My view about career bliss is that it is indeed achievable for everyone on the planet, but not in the way people think. It doesn’t mean that everyone will be rich or have a role in the world that is visible, powerful and recognizable. That’s a fit for some, but not for many others. And career bliss isn’t about how much money you make or the power you wield (those are factors, of course, but not nearly all of it). It’s about one thing: knowing, loving and accepting yourself deeply, then using yourself in joyful and meaningful ways that help others. It’s about leveraging everything you are and have been, to be of service.
The work of building career bliss and expanding your thought leadership, then, isn’t just about identifying what you care about doing and saying. It requires exploring the inner canvass of your life, your mind, your spirit, and your emotions – the traumas and disappointments as well as the accomplishments, victories and knowledge areas and lessons you’ve learned — to uncover who you are and the exact impact you wish to make. When you’re on the real road to being a thought leader, you’ll find that you want to “marry up” everything you are, not chuck it all out and start over, or run from your past. You long to turn your “mess into a message.” You’re compelled to find new ways to overcome your fears, blocks, and insecurities about being “seen” and being impactful in the world. Finally, you’ll start to address and heal your relationship with money and power, because these are potent currencies through which we engage with others in our work.
To know if you are on the path to building yourself as a true thought leader (and if your path to thought leadership will bring you joy and satisfaction), ask yourself these questions:
1. Have I developed a clear “model for change” and a well-articulated teachable point of view that I am able to take people through step by step, to their success and benefit?
2. Is this model proven, tested and researched, and I know beyond a doubt that it’s effective?
3. Have I done the inner work on and with myself to understand my true motives for wanting to be a recognized thought leader?
4. Am I undergoing a process of stretching myself as far as I can every day, understanding where I’m still afraid and insecure about being “out there” in the world?
5. Do I care about moving the needle on a topic I’m passionate about, or am I going just for the supposed money and fame I think I’ll get by being a recognized figure?
6. Do I incorporate and build on others’ thought leadership in my work, or do I think I know everything there is to know about my topic?
7. Am I addressing my emotional fears and challenges around being seen, challenged and critiqued (and/or loved and admired) in a big way?
8. Am I willing to be of service 100 different ways for 100 times longer than expected before I ever receive an iota of the recognition I think I deserve?
9. Do I regularly ask for feedback, critique, help and constructive criticism on my work, so I’m continually expanding it in positive ways?
10. Is there evidence that my work and ideas have a positive, lasting impact?
Finally, ask yourself, “Is this work I cannot not do?”
Answer those questions honestly, and you’ll undoubtedly find a few “power gaps” and areas to focus on that will help you clear the pathway to becoming the thought leader you’re longing to be. Above all, it’s a journey of self-discovery and self-expansion. If you’re not on that path, you won’t be able to lead others effectively with your ideas and messages.
Kathy Caprino, M.A. is a nationally-recognized career success coach, writer, trainer and speaker dedicated to the advancement of women in business. She is the author of Breakdown, Breakthrough:The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power and Purpose, and Founder/President of Ellia Communications, Inc. and the Amazing Career Project, focused on helping professional women build successful, rewarding careers of significance. A Forbes, Huffington Post and LinkedIn contributor and top media source on women’s career and workplace issues, she has appeared in over 100 leading newspapers and magazines and on national radio and television. For more information, visit www.kathycaprino.com and connect with Kathy on: Twitter, FB, LinkedIn.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Feinberg [FLICKR]