The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. 

– Mark Twain

A few weeks ago, I was asked to participate in a webinar on Thought Leadership. Yeeks, I had never actually thought of myself as a “thought leader” before, outspoken Yes, passionate Yes, willing to share Yes, well networked Yes, making a difference, I hope so!

With a marketing/sales background I’ve always been interested in how people market, sell, brand and position themselves. For a time, I ran sessions on “Personal Branding” for senior students as a follow up to the “Digital Footprint” session I delivered to them in the Middle Years. My sessions weren’t focused on fear or safety, but rather on how they could use the internet and its multitude of platforms to better position themselves to realise their dreams for study and work post school. Personal branding is not about self-promotion but instead a way of managing how others perceive you.

In 2016 to polish up my skills I enrolled into the online course, “Introduction to Personal Branding” run by the University of Virginia. One of the tasks was to work out your purpose based on the premise that your purpose IS your brand.

“At its core, your leadership purpose springs from your identity, the essence of who you are. Purpose is not a list of the education, experience, and skills you’ve gathered in your life.” (Craig & Snook, 2014)

This was my purpose statement from 2016:

“My mission is to make a difference in the lives of young people in relation to technology, how they learn, manage and interact with it. I will remain abreast of new technologies and share everything I learn with an openness and enthusiasm that will empower others”

As I reflect on it, it still holds true and I realise just how thought leadership and personal branding intersect. A thought leader is a trusted and experienced person in their field or industry who is happy and willing to share their expertise and opinions. They are often futurists and working ahead of the pack and innovating in their field of expertise.

There are three benefits to be a thought leader and taking the time to invest in your brand and they are:

  • to progress or shift your career direction
  • to boost and position your employers’ brand
  • for the reward and satisfaction in helping and inspiring others
  • bring attention to issues or the potential within a given idea

My advice to educators looking to be thought leaders was to begin by just putting yourself out there, however there is far more to it. Here are just a few points to consider:

  • Firstly, define your values. Mine are honesty, integrity & transparency. Your values will allow you to trust your instinct, share your thoughts, stand up for what you believe in, be seen and be heard.
  • Define your purpose. (see above)
  • Find your niche. What topics do you have deep knowledge about? What are you confident to discuss and even are able to hold your own in an argument? I’m vocal on a number of topics that I’m passionate about all of which align with my purpose. I’ve worked in digital transformation for twenty years, education for fifteen years, online/blended learning for fifteen years and ecommerce, marketing and sales for even longer so that’s where I feel most comfortable. Believing in equality between the sexes, I am a fierce advocate for girls in STEM, Women in I.T. and for gender equality in general. I have no qualms in naming and shaming (Integrity-having strong moral principles!) event organisers publicly when their programs highlight an imbalance of speakers (particularly the all-white, middle aged, male panel “MANEL”) and as a role model for young women I encourage them to speak up and to not accept the status quo. I also share widely and support others in the education sector when it comes to advice & mentoring.   
  • Know your audience and provide them with quality content. Provide original commentary/research and stories. Storytelling is an essential skill for leaders; it can engage and galvanise people. It allows your authenticity to shine through and it becomes a valuable communication tool.
  • Pitch presentation ideas to conference and meet-up organisers. It doesn’t take long before you establish a reputation and they will start seeking you out. Accept that for the first few you will not get paid, but always know your worth and once you have had some practice and they begin calling you, demand payment, or at the very least that they cover your interstate/OS travel expenses.
  • On a more practical level, the platforms I recommend for those in education specifically go where your audience is and that’s on: Twitter, LinkedIn and also get yourself your own website or blog. Develop a “look” and stick to it – be consistent in your use of your name, image, and tone. Another branding tip is to never use nicknames or acronyms for your profile names, so use either your actual name or that of your registered business name if you have one. Don’t forget to update your profile pic too, a current photo is always best. Using web conferencing also means you need to take care of your background in Zoom, Google Meets etc. Your background can say a lot about you and your level of professionalism! Are you aware also that there are better days of the week and times of the day to post to the different social media platforms? Do your research on this and use tools such as Hootsuite to schedule your posts ahead of time.
  • Build your reputation. They say that your reputation is what other people say about you when you are not in the room. What others think of you is based on your performance and the experience others have working with you. Take some time to reflect on whether your image is consistent with your performance and your career goals. On social media everyone you follow and everything you share is a permanent record. Be careful about what you post, be cautious about the photos you publish, and be purposeful about who you let into your circle. Every interaction you have is your brand, so be consistent positioning and in who you select to connect with.
  • Build your tribe. Your tribe are the people in your network who support you and want what you stand for to succeed. Your tribe are those in your network that lift one another up, your tribe is always bigger than any one individual. In launching my business in 2020 a month before the world was turned upside down by COVID-19 my tribe has been my lifeline, those that I can rely on and those that I will do anything for in return.

I’m grateful to the team at Digistorm who really got me thinking more deeply about this topic as I prepared for the webinar. They have also been a business partner for many years now and one I am happy to reputationally align to. The full interview can be seen below.

Please reach out if I can assist you in any way.

Further references: 24/07/2020

To hear more on the topic of finding your purpose, my good friend Ben Crowe had an episode on this very topic last week, Ep. 3 of MoJospresso

Tribes by Seth Godin

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown