Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What is Thought Leadership?

I’ve been thinking lately about how people define thought leadership. I define thought leadership as being a pioneer when it comes to identifying future solutions and trends. That means taking into account the past of a given subject, idea or industry, understanding the changes that it underwent to reach the present and what things about the present will ultimately drive the future. Thought leadership means different things to different people, but that’s my definition.

What frustrates me the most is that many individuals claim to be thought leaders because of their expertise and experience. While I am not trying to discount those things, that is only part of the big picture. Expertise and experience only help you to understand the past, the present and how you got to this point. The real differentiator for those that are actually thought leaders is the ability to understand the reasons for change and how that will affect their initiatives.

Inexperience offers a clear disadvantage as the only way to research how things were and became so is to ask others or research it alone. A lot gets missed when you haven’t “walked the path.” That doesn’t mean that inexperienced individuals cannot possibly be thought leaders. Inexperience offers an advantage as well.  Often, those that are inexperienced are young and idealistic. Youth can be defined as young to the industry, role or situation and/or young in terms of age. Youth can offer the advantage to not being set in a particular way of accomplishing things or generating ideas. This can be leveraged to initiate more creative solutions and visions for the future. 

In addition, thought leaders are not those that follow current trends without looking out ahead to see how they will develop and evolve. Individuals can be “superstars” currently in their industries, but if they don’t actively keep up with how things are changing, they are sure to fall behind. This issue sometimes goes hand in hand with the experience myth. Experience and current success does not automatically make an individual a thought leader. Thought leaders push the limits of things, look and plan ahead and develop multiple strategies for the future. 

While I don’t claim to be a superstar or experienced, I think that I am an emerging thought leader in a few different areas. In addition to seeing the future big picture, I think thought leaders really can change the direction of certain trends or overall practices. Things that are in place “just because” can be changed to be more efficient, or just make more sense for the current situation, time, environment, etc. Not all things should be changed “just because” either. I think thought leaders can identify those things that can be done better and actually come up with a solution to make it better. 

My last thought about thought leaders is that they don’t merely identify issues or trends. Thought leaders DO things, STRIVE to do things and ACHIEVE results. Just identifying something is less than half of the battle. Strategizing ways to leverage a trend or solution is the hardest thing to accomplish, and I believe true thought leaders do this. Any thoughts on thought leadership?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Corporate Controversial

I was contemplating what topic I wanted to cover today with this entry and I went through a series of options. I tend to like writing about things that I wish I had done differently or something that was an unexpected obstacle so that others may avoid it. I always appreciated hearing those types of commentaries from others so that I can at least attempt to have a smoother time, whatever the situation is or was. This entry will be a little different though. It is something that I don’t struggle with, but that I get in trouble a lot for.

If you have ever met me in “real-life” you know that I am confrontational, have a voice and often controversial. While I don’t try to be this way, and I try to harness it as much as I physically can, it just is my personality. I don’t mind when people tend to not agree with me, and I don’t mind receiving feedback to “rein it in” (though the initial session is always tense…). While I think there is a balance to everything, and that my way is typically pretty abrupt, I think that losing this part of me can be detrimental to my identity, career, etc. And I think that losing your voice can be detrimental to everyone. 

I think in the United States, because of the way professionalism is defined, that people tend to fall in line to keep their jobs (why wouldn’t they?) which can result in a sense of groupthink when it comes to handling issues, planning for the future, or just maintaining the business. I think this is one reason that American businesses are struggling when compared to foreign businesses regarding things such as creativity, innovation and vision. There are multiple antecedents that can be to blame for these types of problems: traditional education, the economy, differences between generations, etc. I think one of the big reasons is simply that people are scared or not willing to speak up.  

This is especially true when we look at the norm for corporate professionalism.  The norm is that you highly respect your leadership, you dress a certain way, and you sugarcoat anything that may make your superiors “lose face.” While I understand that leadership deserves respect, I think that people’s definitions of respect can be problematic when attempting to run a business. Respect should never mean agreeing with everything they say. It should never mean that you can’t display an appropriate level of passion around your ideas. Respect also doesn’t mean that you should agree when your ideas are shot down. 

I’ve experienced all of these definitions of respect in various jobs and when questioned, no one ever wants to talk about it. They just want to believe that people (like me) are trying to hurt or undermine them. I just never understand why they don’t see it as people trying to HELP them. Attempting to do new and different things to set this business apart from others, even if they are unconventional are at least worth a dignified conversation rather than a blanket NO. 

I don’t believe that anyone in history made it to the books by being a complete follower. If we desire to be “thought leaders” of the world, then let people BECOME those people. If we continue this norm of falling into place and following explicit directions, then where will the next crop of leaders come from? Once they get to a leadership position, no new ideas will emerge, because that creativity and innovative spirit has never been cultivated. Those things are like muscles and need to be stretched, trained and strengthened. I believe that even though it may be difficult and frustrating most of the time that attempting innovation and attempting to reach a vision is necessary for an individual’s professional development.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How to Google Plus

I am still in the process of figuring out the newest social media fad, Google Plus. I was skeptical at the success that a new site would have as we all know that Facebook and Twitter own that space. I really believe that this can be a very lucrative tool for individuals and businesses alike, and here are the top 10 reasons why:

  1. Within the first 30 days of launch, Google plus already had 20 million users. While that does not come close to what Facebook has, it is definitely impressive. More users make a social website more social and valuable. In addition, all of the users I have seen post opinions have LOVED the new site.
  2. Google Plus’s differentiator from other social networks is the “circle” concept. This forces users to place individuals in groups and then posts have to be sent to those circles. This includes status updates, link posts, pictures and videos. This minimizes some of the issues that the open sharing forum that Facebook and Twitter have as a disadvantage. Businesses and individuals can share things completely publically, but they also can limit posts to clients, friends, business associates, etc., if necessary.
  3. Followership and “friending” can be one-sided. This means that if I want to see what someone’s posts (that they make public) are about, I can, but there is no obligation required on that person’s part. This is really taking a page out of Twitter’s book that is so integral to following current business trends. Following top marketing, social media and HR individuals on Twitter really enables me to understand what the industry values at a particular point in time. Facebook really doesn’t have a feature that allows me to do this.
  4. Google Plus is (I guess obviously) connected to your Gmail account and Google the search engine. This makes life much easier when searching for a particular person or organization. For example, if I type in Batrus Hollweg, their page will show up and I automatically get pushed to Google to see all web results for that search query. In addition, the search function pulls up anyone associated with that organization. This would be a great way to find thought leaders in an industry to “follow” to gain some insight on trends or start a discussion on various posts.
  5. By using a Firefox or Chrome extension, called Start Google Plus, you can easily link your Facebook and Twitter accounts. By “link” I mean the updates will show up in your Google Plus stream, which is equivalent to the Facebook newsfeed or Twitter stream.  For me, I love being able to see all three accounts’ updates in one area, so I don’t have to check three sites for my social media fix.
  6. Profiles are very simplistic and don’t involve too much information. Things like political affiliation and religious beliefs are not even options to fill in information, which minimizes the risk of the user.
  7. There is no “wall” to worry about, so you don’t have to continuously monitor it to be sure that it presents you or your organization in a negative light.
  8. The privacy settings are very straightforward and easy to change. While Facebook does have a lot of these types of features, it is rather difficult to change settings. Google Plus makes it easier. 
  9.   It is REALLY easy to migrate all of your Facebook information (pictures, etc.) over by using a Chrome extension called Move Your Photos which uses a Picasa account. My experience was moving over 1500 images and it took about 20 minutes with it running in the background.
  10. There is a feature called “huddle” where individuals can video chat and they are closed to others. This is basically combining Skype with a social site, which I like personally when I travel. It’s a good way to stay in contact with family without international fees associated with long distance communication.
I think businesses and individuals can leverage these positive features to create a good social media presence in the most positive way possible. Some of these features eliminate a lot of issues surrounding social media sites and “oversharing,” which makes life easier for both the individual and organization.I hope this list has helped if anyone is having trouble with some of the features. If you know of more features that I didn't mention, please post in the comment box. Questions and comments are welcome!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

One Bad Apple…

I recently got back from a trip to my birth state, Maryland, to visit my great grandmother (she is the one with the red hair). It’s odd, I have no living grandmothers, but I have a living great grandmother, go figure.  She had called and very nicely asked my family and me to come to a “crab feast.” Now, I’m sure we all have heard of Maryland blue crabs, and a crab feast is eating your weight in them with delicious Old Bay seasoning and Maryland sweet corn. I actually hadn’t seen her in almost a decade (makes you feel old, huh?) so I decided to go and booked the flight. My grandfather later called and said that the crab feast was a cover for a surprise party that they were having for my great grandmother’s 86th birthday, so I was even happier that I agreed to go. It was probably the single best family visit (I got to see both my father and mother’s sides of extended family) that I have ever had. Now I’m going to say why, but it does get a little personal, so just FYI.

My grandmother on that side passed away within the past two years. She is honestly the single reason that I avoided that entire side of the family. She wasn’t a nice person and continually stirred up trouble at family gatherings, whether it be by being negative and making everyone else miserable, misconstruing what other people say to cause a fight or just being all around nasty. I’m not all that sure why she did those things, but I found from a very young age that I could avoid those negative situations by excluding myself from family gatherings. There were a few reasons why this wasn’t nipped by other family members or myself. Firstly, she had a very strong personality that was difficult to “reckon with.” In addition, she simply wouldn’t allow anyone to meet with anyone in the family without her present. The biggest reason that we couldn’t fix this type of behavior was that the people around her were entirely too kind and tolerant of it. Being kind to her made it so that people like me avoided family gatherings, which is rather sad. 

I know too many people to count that have the same or a similar situation on their hands:  A family member that controls the feelings and overall situation during gatherings and is typically negative and dramatic. I have a few words of advice on what to try when dealing with that situation, because I lost so much time with my family because of that ONE person (or bad apple). If my grandmother was still here, I would have talked to her ALONE about what was going on. Normally confrontation erupted because of something she did, so she argued that issue rather than the bigger one. I would also have talked to my family without her present to see what they thought about it. I sincerely do not know what they think about her, and I’m almost afraid to ask after so much time has passed. I would try to come to some sort of agreement with the family and the negative member, but I know this can only happen a fraction of the time. This is the hard part now: DON’T TOLERATE IT. If a family member is keeping you from the rest of your family, don’t let them. Meet with family members on your own time if you can’t do the confrontation bit (which has never been a problem for me) but DO NOT EVER let someone keep you from experiencing what you want to experience with your family or life in general.