Thought leaders are the opinion leaders and the go-to people in their field of expertise. They’re trusted sources who move and inspire people with innovative ideas; turn ideas into reality, and show how to replicate their success. The Oxford dictionary defines thought leadership as “intellectual influence and innovative or pioneering thinking.” Organizations that can cultivate thought leadership from within their teams have a strategic advantage when it comes to growth in market leadership, product and service development, accountability, and client engagement. However, in my research on talent development and empowerment and from my work in the field, I feel the importance and cultivation of thought leadership is not getting the focus it should have.

In-company and female Thought Leadership on the rise

Today, December 8th 2021, I participated as a speaker in an online panel, programmed within the Women in Tech Regatta Amsterdam event. The subject we were talking about was ‘ The rise of women in Thought Leadership”. In collaboration with our moderator, 2 other panelists and an audience of around 50 women we zoomed in on this subject. By sharing experiences, personal stories and thoughts we touched different failures and opportunities around this topic. When thinking about female Thought Leaders, we discovered that these women are mostly independent professionals, consultants, researchers or writers. Very rarely it is seen that though leadership is owned by the C-level management of companies, nor within their employees, let alone stimulated. A missed chance for innovation and opportunity for change, I would say!

Screenshot of our panel in the WiT regatta.

Why Thought Leadership should be a business priority?

Thought Leadership content can help anyone involved in the business decision making process to gain alignment across their company regarding the problems they are facing. Leaders are everywhere. Expose your thought leaders and you begin the process of becoming a social business. The core of thought leadership is about having the answers to the questions that your target audience finds most important. However, just having the answers isn’t enough. Effective thought leadership occurs when your distinctive expertise and passion align with the interests and needs of the audience that you are making an effort to engage. As read in a publication of Forbes establishing your organization as a thought leader in its industry is about building trust, credibility and authority and using this connection to build your brand reputation.

Create the right environment

The best, most innovative ideas don’t always always come from the top. If you want to create an organization brimming with creativity and Thought Leadership, create an environment where it is easy for everyone to speak up and share ideas. One of the main obstacles standing in the way of creating an atmosphere where ideas thrive is actually the management. When management is too assertive, aggressive or demanding with their teams, individuals have a tendency to not opening up and keep their heads down. When new people join the organization, they often pick up on the behaviour of the team around them, meaning you could hire people who have brilliant ideas, but the environment does not encourage them to thrive. In our WiT panel discussion someone in the audience mentioned that, being a junior employee, she feels that she is not valued or recognized for having great ideas. This statement resonated also amongst others in the audience and the question is: why? My reflection and answer to this, is that we ar all programmed to think and work in a traditional top down organogram in which control and power is dominating. In my mindset programs I always encourage companies to develop towards a more agile and organic organogram, in which we work in teams and with diverse employees on projects and products. In this way we don’t think or judge anymore on hierarchy, but on talent.

Encourage collaboration

Chances are that if a team member doesn’t understand why they are being asked to share, he or she will feel like they are wasting their time, or don’t believe that their ideas will be implemented. Without this “why,” people involved in a ‘sharing ideas project’ will never engage. Set up regular team sessions that are dedicated to generating and sharing of ideas. They can be stand-alone sessions or built into meetings, training sessions, and conferences. Vary the size of the groups. Change up who comes to which session to get different mixes. Give different people the chance to lead a group at different times. Set up a time for smaller group or one-on-one breakout discussions. Personally I am a fan of Padlet, a co-creation, project and brainstorm tool that enables to post ideas in text, images or url’s, with the possibility to comment and like. I use these in my programs and people are really getting inspired and motivated by working with it.

Find the talent

There are people on your team right now who have the potential to make a significant impact on your organization and your industry, but how do you recognize them? How do you pinpoint exactly who the thought leaders are? Providing the space for collaboration and idea-sharing is important because it creates a platform for thought leaders to shine. It is essential to recognize and reward thought leadership in your organization if you want it to thrive. Recognizing and rewarding your thought leader ensures they will stay motivated to continue giving you their best. Recognition is essential for encouraging a sense of purpose. It affirms their role in the bigger picture for the organization, and that their contributions matter.

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