Follow the thought leader: why you should participate

Follow the thought leader: why you should participate

If you were offered the opportunity to work with an experienced colleague, somebody whose work you admire, would you seize it?

Chances are, you would. And you’re not alone: according to research by Kelly Services®, almost half of all workers consider working with knowledgeable colleagues to be an important factor when evaluating job offers. At the same time, almost two-thirds of all workers agree that opportunities for growth are a key consideration when assessing job offers. Clearly, today’s professionals are invested in enhancing their skills and advancing to the next level in their jobs, and they’re looking beyond formal training programs to do so.

Of course, you can learn a lot from more experienced colleagues, especially when it comes to company-specific information and methods. However, many professionals overlook a vital aspect of expanding their knowledge: acquiring a broader, more global overview of their industries.

This is where learning from thought leaders comes in. Thought leaders are people or organizations who are recognized as authorities; entities who innovate and influence their industries. They’re generally outspoken and share their insights via a variety of platforms including traditional and social media. Examples of well-known thought leaders are Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, Bill Gates, James Caan, and Meg Whitman.

Reasons to learn from thought leaders

If you aspire to rise to the next level in your career, listening to what recognized thought leaders have to say is an essential aspect of your professional development. Here’s why:

  • A thought leader possesses a well-developed frame of reference against which to discuss topics. Most thought leaders have years of experience that include hard-earned successes and educational failures. They’ve seen their industries develop over time, influenced by political, social, and economic change. Their knowledge of their industries is profound, making them uniquely qualified to comment on the present and look to the future. Following thought leaders and absorbing what they have to say offers a wealth of information you could spend a professional lifetime trying to gather.
  • A thought leader invites discussion. It’s interesting to note that thought leaders invite discussion, which is why so many are on social media. They want feedback because it helps them understand the public’s wants and needs. Feedback can also alert them to new developments and trends in the industry. By following and even participating in discussions, you can gain a good overview of what’s happening in your industry beyond what you see at work.
  • A thought leader is in a position to influence. Wise people listen when experts speak—even if they don’t share the same opinion. It’s safe to assume that when somebody who’s recognized as a thought leader has something to say, his or her opinion will be well-informed and can influence many people. By observing thought leaders express their opinions and how people respond to them, you can learn a lot about communication with the aim to influence.
  • A thought leader innovates. One of the most exciting things about thought leaders is that they dare to challenge the status quo. They’re in a position to assess the value of change, as well as to facilitate it by means of their organizations and networks. Because of this, they’re often at the forefront of innovation, and if you’re following them, you can be, too.

Clearly, thought leaders offer a wealth of information and insights about their industries that reach far beyond most people’s professional experience. And thanks to their willingness to share their knowledge, you can become more informed about your industry in a manner that can benefit you in your current job, as well as throughout your career.

How to pinpoint thought leaders in your field

Now you know how you can benefit from following thought leaders, how do you find those in your field? There are most likely a number of industry names that already spring to mind: experts who are quoted in trade magazines or pundits who are interviewed on news programs. To evaluate whether they’re authorities from whom you really want to learn, study their blog posts, articles, interviews, and speeches. For each of them, ask yourself if this person presents a well-rounded, progressive view that reaches beyond the interests of his or her organization. If you can honestly answer affirmatively, you’ve found a thought leader. Then all you have to do is search for that person on LinkedIn or Twitter, and you’ll be able to follow their discussions—and even participate, if you like.

If you’re serious about rising to the next level in your job, make following thought leaders an integral element of your career advancement strategy. Because any time and energy you spend on professional development is time well spent.

Source: 2014 KGWI