Once you move into the IT leadership ranks of an organization, you must seek to differentiate yourself in a sea of other competent and effective leaders. A cornerstone of achieving that differentiation is thought leadership; when you possess this ability, you can identify, establish, and articulate trends and changes in the tech industry.
Thought leaders are generally highly visible people within an industry who write and speak about trends, and are regarded as people who can envision and articulate what that industry will look like in the coming years. This may sound daunting, but it is often as simple as publishing thought-provoking commentary.
Consider how often you read a public or internal blog or an article in a periodical that causes you to rethink how you do your job. The person who wrote that article is probably not a superhuman that possesses Pulitzer Prize-level writing talent or works in a think tank; rather, the person is probably a practitioner who has taken some time to codify and share his or her thoughts about the direction of the field.
Why do I need a second job?
It's easy to see the activities required to become a thought leader as a tedious second job. Toiling away at regular blog postings, or attempting to establish a presence on social media is not as glamorous as the idea of thought leadership, and in many cases, these tasks are performed outside regular job hours and responsibilities.
From a purely self-interest perspective, becoming a thought leader can make you a more visible and valuable employee. Those blog postings and articles might even open up new opportunities and be resume gold if you're looking for employment.
Taking a broader perspective, striving toward becoming a thought leader forces you outside your routine and comfort zone, and allows you to explore aspects of the field that might not be available to you in your regular job. As you work toward increased visibility in the industry, you'll also help affect and define the future of the field. This is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of becoming a thought leader: moving from the passenger seat in terms of broad industry trends to helping take the wheel and setting the agenda for the field.
A plan for thought leadership
Once you're convinced that striving toward thought leadership is a beneficial and helpful goal, figuring out where to start can be challenging. Fortunately, with the proliferation of publishing outlets, there's often higher demand for content than supply, whether the publication is internal or external.
Start with your internal resources. Does your company publish an internal blog, newsletter, or other periodical? If you're working at a product-oriented company, see if there are any customer-facing blogs or periodicals that need content. Simply writing the editor or owner of the blog is often all you need to receive an enthusiastic request to apply your writing talents.
If none of these avenues exist, consider starting an internal email newsletter to your department, or targeted toward peer-level leaders in other business units. This does not need to be elaborate, but it does need to be relevant, regular, and maybe even pithy.
Start small to build credibility and experience
When you're starting out, write about what you know and experience in your career, and how you would change the industry given the opportunity, and you'll likely have an unending supply of topics.
A three-paragraph newsletter sent internally could lead to a guest writing assignment for the company blog. That blog can be parlayed into a regular column in the company's customer-facing magazine, which can ultimately be leveraged into books, speaking engagements, and paid writing assignments.
There's a thirst for practitioners who can write and articulate what's going on in the industry, and that qualification is often more valuable than deep writing talent or formal journalism experience. Your first few writing attempts may seem difficult and tedious, but like any skill, the more you exercise your "writing muscle" the easier the task becomes.
Give this worthwhile goal a try
There's no escaping the fact that becoming an interesting and compelling thought leader takes time and effort, but it's often an enjoyable experience and opportunity to share, teach, and help redefine your industry. Remember to start small, write about your own experiences and ideas, and take advantage of the huge demand for practitioner-originated content, and you'll be well on your way to establishing yourself as a thought leader.
- Finding the fit for thought leadership in social media
- Making a case: How to become a thought leader and influence decisions
- Five tips for becoming a tech writer
- 10 tips for landing more freelance writing projects
- Five simple tips that will improve your writing a thousand percent
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.