“We need the best ideas and substantive leaders winning”

“We need the best ideas and substantive leaders winning”

“We need the best ideas and substantive leaders winning” 600 600 Randolf Jessl

Dorie Clark knows how to stand out. She wrote a bestseller on the matter and makes the difference in the crowd of personal brand and thought leadership evangelists. I talked with Dorie about becoming a recognised expert, the pitfalls of self-marketing and the Do’s and Don’ts in Employee Advocacy Programs.

Dorie, you keep telling people to stand out. Why should they?

Dorie: Because you’re a commodity in the marketplace and a resource in your company! You’d better give people a compelling reason to do projects or business with you rather than with somebody else.

Fair enough! And this means you need to brand yourself?

Call it as you like! The main thing is to build your reputation. If you have a strong reputation, there will always be people who want to work with you. But if you haven’t taken the time to cultivate that, then you’re just drifting amongst the tides.

Seems as if more and more people share that feeling of drifting amongst the tides …

For the past 25 years or so, we have had a huge shift in the corporate marketplace. It is coming everywhere including Europe. There has been a shift away from lifetime employment at companies and a shift away from a kind of fraternalistic viewpoint where the company promotes you steadily up the ladder.

Stand Out! Are we prepared to do so?

So better build a reputation that helps you climb the ladder or build a business of your own. Check! However, are people prepared to stand out?

You know a lot of these words are very loaded, right? The word “personal branding” is loaded, the phrase “stand out” is loaded, the word “thought leader” ist loaded. These terms can be very stressful and putting up a lot of concerns about how to be in the world or how to be professionally and all the things people have been taught. But I think that there’s the caricature version and then there’s the real version.

So, what’s the caricature version?

It is the believe that you stand out by being this loud self-congratulatory chest-pumping person that won’t stop telling people about how great they are. No one wants to be around a loud jerk.

Indeed! What is the real version?

I think that there are ways to stand out in positive ways that earn the respect of your peers and the respect of your community. One facet of this is the importance of sharing your knowledge. If you are in a particular field and you have developed a lot of expertise overtime, if you publish on that or do some public speaking: No one is going to say, “Oh, he is such a Jerk.”

I hope so. What else is important?

Teach! Do a little lunch and learn. Or shine a light on other people. Interview people in your domain who are doing a great job and write about it. You will actually get credit for it, connect with interesting people and spread valuable learnings.

Many people think: “I don’t know what I’m an expert in or I don’t have anything valuable to contribute.” What do you tell them?

We are our own baseline of normal. Everything seems normal to us but it can be very precious for others. It is all about thinking through what you know, what is it about you that is different from everybody else and then how to bring that to the fore.

Why being a thought leader is a noble thing

Doing so, you will end up being a thought leader though you might not like the term.

Right! I understand that people think that the word is tacky or pretentious. On the other hand, I think that it is a noble thing to aspire to be a thought leader such that other people might call you that. Fundamentally, a thought leader is a good thing to be for two reasons. Number one, and its inherent in the name, thought leader implies that the reason you are famous is because of your ideas. It means that there’s something substantive to what you’re presenting

And number two?

You cannot definitionally be a leader without followers. And so, that is a marker that other people are resonating with what you are talking about. So, for those reasons, I like the idea of thought leadership.

Are you saying that people have some self-esteem issues in that respect?

I think so! I am convinced that anyone if they are willing to put in the time and the effort actually could be a thought leader in a given space. But I think that for many people, that seems out of reach, which I consider to be very sad.

So do I. As for me, you are following a strong vision of individual growth and autonomy! In a way, a very American vision …

Well, in the US we have decreasing levels of actual social mobility. That is alarming. But there is at least still a mental belief in the possibility of moving up and build on your own talents and skills. What I would like for all professionals is to truly believe that you can become sought after, that you can become a recognised expert, regardless of what school you went to or what your background has been heretofore. If you are willing to work hard and be strategic in how you do so, you will succeed. Everybody can build a powerful reputation for yourself.

Why it’s not about clicks, likes & shares

In order to build that reputation and gain followers people chase clicks, shares and likes. Rightly so?

You know, I do a lot of executive coaching for successful professionals who want to become recognised experts and thought leaders in their field. I tell them not to look solely for clicks, shares and likes. Who cares if you get clicks? Do you really want to be known as the person who has sassy commentary on such and such breaking news issue? I mean that’s an issue that’s going to go away in five minutes. What you want to do is to create lasting content with a long tail so that somebody tomorrow or five years from now can find it online. It doesn’t matter if it has 800,000 or 200 clicks. The 200 clicks is going to be more professionally advantageous to you if they are the right people seeking you out.

I couldn’t agree more! In corporations so called “employee advocacy programs” nowadays teach people how to use social media and how to produce and share content. Is that the way to glory?

If it is something that someone feels very passionate about and the company has an infrastructure to make it easier for them to do, then I support that 110 per cent. If it becomes something that is more of an obligation where it’s like, “Here is our mentorship program, you two random people are now assigned, go meet.” or if it’s a program where it’s you know, “Okay, you need to send five tweets between now and next month and we’re going to be counting because you’re our advocate,” then it becomes a little silly.

How “thought leadership” changes the leadership equation

Let’s have a final look on the leader in thought leadership. Can you truly lead by thoughts?

Well, thought leadership changes the leadership equation. It makes leadership easier and better because it clarifies for people why they should be following you. You know, it’s just kind of putting out a beacon to say, “Hey, this is who I am, this is what I stand for.” And then likeminded people can see that and can say, “Oh, well, I agree with that. I think that’s great. I want to be part of that.” So, it speeds up the process of building a following. And there is a very egalitarian aspect to thought leadership because it is the best idea winning. If your idea is terrible, people are not going to sign on to it.

This is what the Belgium psychoanalyst and professor Paul Verhaeghe calls “horizontal authority”. I really like that notion because it tells about a different understanding of leadership and followership. A concept worth spreading?

Absolutely! We need the best ideas to rise to the top – be it in public discourse, be it in corporations. And we need people with brilliant ideas and recognized expertise to take the lead and win their following. That can be the well-known professor, the senior vice president, a frontline employee or the undergraduate blogger. There is something very powerful about that.

Dorie, it was a pleasure to talk to you. Keep spreading the word! So will we!


On our Guest

Dorie Clark is an adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the author of Entrepreneurial You, Reinventing You and Stand Out, which was named the #1 Leadership Book of 2015 by Inc. magazine. The New York Times described her as an “expert at self-reinvention and helping others make changes in their lives.” She is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, advises companies worldwide and speaks at renowned conferences.


Photo Credit: Dorie Clark