Recently, a client said to me that they wanted to publish a piece they had started writing before the pandemic about leadership in crisis. She had been working in various regions around the world during several major disasters. It was the Oklahoma City bombing, 9-11 in New York, the Fukushima meltdown and tsunami in Japan and now COVID-19 in Hong Kong. She had learned a tremendous amount from these experiences. And she could use now as the regional head of human resources for a major media company. She thought it might be useful to other leaders but, despite her extraordinary and valuable experience, she didn’t want to hop on the COVID-19 bandwagon.
You can see where she is coming from. Everywhere you turn there seems to be an article or “how to” about the pandemic. We have all had our share of frustrating moments thinking that one more treatise on what we must/could/should be doing now will send us over the edge.
So, how do you ensure you are still contributing in a way that also builds the story of who you are and how you contribute? How do you build your thought leadership and personal brand during this time without feeling opportunistic, narcissistic, and shallow?
Based on the research for my book, Future Proof: Reinventing Work in the Age of Acceleration, I found three questions that ensure you can do so with integrity.
Who do you serve?
Think of the audience for your information. These are the people who would benefit most from the ideas that you have to share. They might be peers in your industry, clients, staff or the C-suite or board of your company. If you are unsure, consider that the audience is “people like me”. If you are a CFO, it may be other CFOs or finance directors who can most benefit from your experience balancing sustainability and profit at this time.
When I wrote about my experience of managing your business in times of grief, I knew several fellow entrepreneurs, including my co-author, who lost loved ones at a time when most articles are about aggressively pivoting to new business. After it appeared the number of entrepreneurs around the world who wrote to say how much it helped was a clear indication of serving my audience.
What do they need now?
Are the people you serve sitting pretty with no problems? Probably not. What specifically do they need right now that you might provide? Think about their pain points and what is keeping them up at night. If this is information that you have gathered to help your own sleepless nights, you’re probably on the right track.
Susan Peppercorn’s article on how to support remaining employees in a layoff speaks to exactly what leaders need now as they grapple with restoring motivation and morale despite the need for downsizing in many organizations.
What unique value do you provide?
What specific experience or expertise do you have that could help them through this period? Often this is a combination of your skills, position, and experience. A finance director that has led a company through the uncertainty of a merger or acquisition, may have learning to share. And it might be applied in the current environment. The technology expert in workplace management solutions has the expertise that people are now aware they need, even if they have never looked for it before.
Revisiting these questions with my client (in our coaching session), it was clear that her contribution would outweigh her unease at appearing unscrupulous. Her peers in human resources globally are being challenged to find ways to respond to the crisis. She knew this by reaching out to a few of them in her network to ask if they would find her article valuable. They needed practical advice that had been tried and tested. She is one of the only people around who has had so many varied experiences of crises that have informed her already valued strategic perspective.
In a LinkedIn article she focused on the benefits she could bring and connecting the dots for her audience about what worked across these different crises. This sparked a conversation that enabled other leaders to contribute their own experiences and find new ideas to help work through the pandemic. She was also able to rise above the crowd of other human resource professionals by leveraging her specific points of difference and drawing on her unique experience. Ultimately, top HR leaders convened a group to discuss, share information and even collaborate on how best to help staff manage through a crisis.
Why is your thought leadership in a crisis important?
The reason your thought leadership is important is that we do not know where from whence the best answers or solutions will come. It is not always the loudest person in the room. It’s a group of people with different perspectives that can come to the best solution. To do that we have to share our ideas.
“There are far too many people who are in their ivory tower. They have great ideas. But they don’t do anything to share them with the world. And anytime you have an idea that’s locked up in the attic, it’s not doing you any good. It’s not doing society any good.” – Dorie Clark, author, Stand Out
Having the courage to put your ideas out there is never easy and the stakes seem higher during this pandemic. Answering these three questions honestly can help you build your thought leadership and value in an uncertain time ch as a crisis and inspire others to do the same.
If you’d like to join a community of peers to work on your thought leadership, consider joining us on the next Future Proof Your Career course.