While technology and innovation have been buzzwords since the turn of the century, there is no denying the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has put them into overdrive. As a result, the business landscape has undergone a major transformation, and this evolution is now here to stay. What this means for any business organisation or enterprise is that a culture of change and transformation needs to be built into its very fabric for survival and success. This brings into sharp focus the role of an effective thought leader.
A thought leader is much more than an entrepreneur or a senior industry professional. Instead, thought leader uses their experience to guide their teams and industry into the future.
Thought leadership strategy involves:
- Being in touch with the pulse of change through research and keeping abreast with the developments in the industry
- Understanding the impact of technology in spearheading change
- Setting benchmarks
- Grooming young talent to take on future leadership roles
Here are some of the Dos and Don’ts that can impact your role as an industry thought leader.
- Plan the Unplannable – Ironic as it may sound, one of the key strengths of the thought leader is his/her ability to plan. Now, this is seen as a challenge at a time when the industry landscape is in constant flux. But this is where a thought leader’s visionary foresight comes into play. Sanjiv Bajaj, Chairman & Managing Director, Bajaj Finserv and President, CII (2022-23), for example, planned to transform the traditional financial services industry and give it a tech upgrade way before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the industry to go digital. This makes him one of India’s most famous thought leaders and a visionary.
- Go Above and Beyond – Using your role as a thought leader for sales and marketing purposes undermines your ability to remain objective about the development of the industry as a whole. Being focused on your organisational agenda could compromise your ability to forge meaningful relationships and collaborate with industry leaders both in the country and abroad. Some of the most revered thought leaders, such as Ratan Tata, are widely known as one of the most empathetic leaders of our times. He believes that an empathetic approach has paid him rich dividends, and he has major turnarounds in his organisation because of it. The empathetic approach takes a holistic view of the industry and societal transformation. This is what makes them some of the most empathetic leaders.
- Communicate, Collaborate, Cooperate – As a business leader, you always look out for the best interests of your organisation. Beating the competition, gaining market share, and becoming one of the top brands in the industry are some of the goals that keep you going. As a thought leader, however, you must transcend these and look out for industry growth, economic development, and CSR initiatives. Use your excellent communication skills, forge ties, and bring together other industry titans in a bond of collaboration and cooperation. Anand Mahindra, the Chairman of the Mahindra Group, for example, is known for his exemplary communication across channels including social media. His CSR outlook definitely puts him on the map of corporate India.
- Don’t Toe the Line – While most of us look up to thought leaders and admire their stature, the journey to the helm is not an easy one. A visionary leader always faces resistance in breaking the mould, changing the way things have always been done, and looking beyond what is perceived boundaries. Thought leaders are not afraid to listen to “crazy” ideas; they are not averse to taking risks or attempting to reset industry perceptions.
- Don’t just lead, empower – The one cardinal rule of growth that the best empowering leaders understand is that you grow when you empower people. Conventional wisdom dictates that the winner stands alone. Contemporary wisdom lies in elevating the pack – helping yourself and others grow at the same time.
- Don’t Imitate – One of the most important things that set you apart as a thought leader is your very own indomitable style. When you write and speak at industry events, your vision, your ideas, and your unique style of expression make you different from others. Imitating others lowers your role as an iconic leader and even restricts your own ability to embrace novel ideas and innovation. Always remember that your niche and your speciality make you a thought leader. Emulating others simply takes this away from you.
A thought leader is the role model professionals look up to for vision, transformation, innovation, and constructive dialogue. Being an innovator, there are not many rules and guidelines to follow, but this also brings the need for self-discipline and social responsibility.
Conclusion – Thought leaders are innovators who lead the industry into a much-needed era of transformation. Being a thought leader means being open to innovative ideas and thinking outside the box. Leading by example, forging collaborations that raise industry standards, developing a unique style of communication, and moving beyond organisational needs set you apart as an icon to be followed and emulated.