Thought Leaders Go First

Posted on by Dana VanDen Heuvel

Do you dare to go first?

bigstock VIENNA AUSTRIA JANUARY 19864604 Thought Leaders Go First

Going first is often a daring proposition. In cycling, for example, the one out in front is subject to the headwinds. In politics the one out in front is subject to the most scrutiny.  In just about every walk of life, ‘going first’ can seem fraught with peril. However, going first is absolutely what’s required to be a thought leader in your industry.

The one who goes first can be the catalyst for a profound conversation, a revealing dialogue, a shared experience and set the stage for future conversations on a topic.

This concept is best illustrated by an excerpt from an article in Forbes entitled The Importance of Being First:

“Of course it’s easier to just copy a business idea, political position, or organizational mission from someone else.  But if someone else already has gotten into your prospect’s mind with the same perception you had hoped to create, you’ll find it is hard to push them out.  A better plan is to pick a different perception, one that you can be the first to put into your prospect’s mind.”

Getting to First

The “paradox of being first” is that in order to be first as a thought leader, we must look backwards and inwards. We look backward to reflect on experience, as good thought leadership is harvested from the experiences of the organization, case examples of bested challenges and solved problems and we reflect inward to understand the soul of the organization and how to bring that to bear on the market to put you first in the market of ideas.

To Thought Lead, Get In Touch With Your Why

That depth of reflection serves us in another way. While ‘what’ you know will serve you well, it’s the deeper levels of ‘how’ and most importantly, ‘why’, that will influence others’ feelings, patterns, decisions and ultimately their actions.  No one communicates this idea of ‘why’ better than Simon Sinek, the author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.

Sinek asks things like “what’s your purpose, what’s your cause, what’s your belief, why does your organization exist?”  The way we usually communicate is to go from the outside in. From WHAT, the most concrete thing to WHY, the fuzziest thing. However, great leaders and inspired organizations think, act and communicate from the inside out. From WHY over HOW to WHAT.

simonsinekwhy Thought Leaders Go First

The Goal of First Starts With Why

To inspire, we must be inspired. The strong and enviable, yet vulnerable position of thought leader in your market or industry starts with humble beginnings that explore the very core beliefs of an organization. Just like sharing your story first in a group is awkward, going first in a role-play is uncomfortable and being out in front subjects you to headwinds, getting to and then communicating your ‘why’ first is not an easy road, but it’s the essence of communicating like a true thought leader.

Starting today, go first.

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  • Dr_Liz

    Excellent focus, Dana. How timid we’ve become in the main, it seems. For example, in a recent report, Fiona Czerniawska of the UK’s Source for Consulting identified the top ten thought leadership topics. What a pathetic list of the same old chestnuts: market analysis and strategy; responding to regulation; financial management and control. Her summary being “that an awful lot of thought leadership continues to be really about following what other people do.” 

    George Bernard Shaw once said, “Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” In this era of the expert there’s the danger right there! Experts have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Just consider academics with reputations are based on certain narrowly defined studies. You think they’re good at changing their minds? I’ve worked with these folks; let me tell you–they’ll resist any criticism that maybe they got it wrong. Similarly, think about the politician who, having given consideration to the issues, decides that maybe they weren’t so sure about something after all. What happens? They’re accused of “flip flopping.” We get what we reward and changing our minds isn’t rewarded in our society, sadly. Until we become more comfortable with people saying, “I was wrong” and not lambasting them for their courage then we’re going to continue seeing the same tired old ideas promoted–like old wine in new bottles. 

    Thought leaders are courageous individuals. That’s why the true ones are so rare. 
    Liz Alexander, PhD.
    Co-author, Thought Leadership Tweet: 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign.

    Tweet #6: How brave are you prepared to be in terms of putting forward potentially controversial or challenging points of view?

  • Dana VanDen Heuvel

    So true, Liz. We’ve become quite timid, and that’s really unfortunate, as it’s so important for real thought leaders to be bold in the sea of otherwise similar ideas.
    Great references to Shaw and to the work that Fiona is doing at the Source!

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