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Dr Mohamed “Mo” Ibrahim, a Sudanese-British mobile communications entrepreneur and billionaire

By Avery Blank

People follow thought leaders because they inspire. How do they inspire? In developing the focus of their thought leadership, they consider both themselves and others. They consider the world in which they live and what the world wants to hear from them.

Thought leadership helps you to become a leader and, more importantly, helps others to lead in their own lives. To inspire the lives of others, you have to be relevant. To be relevant, you need to consider your context, which includes three things: your organization or company, your professional community and world events.

  1. Consider your organization.

Understand your relationship with your organization or company and the context in which it operates. What industry is it in? What services does it provide? Who are its customers? What initiatives does it promote?

Your affiliation shapes you and where you are perceived to have expertise. It can add credibility if it aligns with your focus. For example, you work at General Motors wanting to write and speak on increasing the number of women on boards. Working at GM, a company that has succeeded at having an equal number of women and men on their board, will bolster your cause.

On the other hand, if you work for the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) and want to be a thought leader on millennials, it may prove difficult for people to understand why you want to talk about one age demographic when you are working for another. Think about how your organization can help you gain credibility as a thought leader.

  1. Understand your professional community.

To be relevant, you must also consider your professional community, a community broader than your organization. If you work on business strategy, your community could be other management consultants. If you are a social media manager, your community can include other marketing and communications professionals. You will be seen as a more credible thought leader if your focus aligns with the interests of your professional community.

For instance, if you work in people operations, you can leverage this to be a thought leader on talent development. If you are an architect and want to be a thought leader in talent development, it will be more difficult for you to gain credibility because what you want to discuss diverges from the expertise of your professional community. Take advantage of your professional community to be seen as an authority on your thought leadership focus.

Your affiliations can make or break you. If you want your colleagues to see you as a thought leader and follow you, it is critical that you consider your role in the world.

  1. Leverage world events.

If you want to be relevant, you need to keep your pulse on what is going on in society. What are people talking and writing about? What important societal discussions are happening? To lead a discussion, there must be something to inspire a discussion.

When you have a sense of what is going on in the world, know where your voice can add value. A salary negotiations expert would add more value to a discussion on the gender pay gap issue than a discussion  on nuclear arms negotiations. Your voice will be heard if you choose the right discussions to contribute to. You have to find the right fit.

To gain traction as a thought leader, you need to understand both yourself and how you fit in with the world. You have to be relevant. You must consider your affiliations and have a pulse on what is hot and trending in the world. Context is king. When you understand your context, you can leverage it to inspire others and lead.