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Five Key Tips for Gen Y Employees on Developing Thought Leadership

By Melissa J. Anderson

In a recent piece, Forbes contributor Glenn Llopis described his key advice for becoming a thought leader. He said:

“Thought leadership is your path to career security, continuing relevance, and a vibrant company environment. It is no longer optional for those who want to control their path through business life; it is mandatory.”

While his article was distinctly directed at an audience of people who sell services into companies – entrepreneurs and consultants – Llopis’ advice was compelling and useful to anyone looking to advance their own career within a corporate environment as well.

As Viva Hammer, National Tax Partner at KPMG, recently described to The Glass Hammer, becoming a thought leader early in your career provides security and mobility.

“At the start, aim to be the world expert in some up and coming field …and work with all you’ve got – then when you reach the top, you can choose what you do and where and how you do it.”

“Be indispensable! Then you call the shots,” she concluded.

Thought leadership isn’t solely reserved for senior leaders. Llopis explained, “in the new workplace where the sharing of ideas is welcomed regardless of hierarchy or rank, any employee can be a thought leader. In today’s business world, the most relevant employees are starting the conversations – and benefiting both individual and corporation.”

Younger workers can develop thought leadership too, and benefit hugely from it. Here are five ways Gen Y employees can hone and express thought leadership within their organization.

1. Become the Go-To Person

The first step to becoming a leader in any given field is to develop your expertise – you can’t be a thought leader without really knowing what you’re taking about. Proving to your colleagues that you’re not only an expert, but that your dedicated and reliable, is the first step toward developing thought leadership.

2. Communicate Your Expertise

Llopis suggests that individuals looking to become thought leaders write, write, write. He says, “Seasoned thought leaders know that writing and sharing of experiences is a natural extension of their leadership role and responsibility.”

His advice is to communicate with readers and come up with new conversations that can contribute to your expertise. Translated to an internal role, this could mean sitting in on meetings, volunteering for new projects, participating on business development projects, or speaking on panels at internal networking events, as it pertains to your specific area of expertise. Make sure your peers and those above know you’ve got great insight on a certain topic, and that your insight can be leveraged for the benefit of your company.

3. Be Yourself

Personal branding is an important aspect of thought leadership. Make sure you’re authentically interested in your topic of choice – your passion needs to shine through. As Llopis explains, “People want to connect with your voice in ways they can relate to personally. Sharing your personal identity (within reason) allows for a more purposeful and meaningful relationship to blossom.”

4. Communicate the Value of Your Expertise

Thought leadership needs to benefit everyone – not just yourself. If you’re only looking to be seen as an expert just so you can get ahead, you’re not going to get anywhere. Communicate why your thought leadership is of value to your team or company and show that you’re a team player, not out for personal gain.

Llopis advises, “When speaking, focus on providing useful information. No one wants to listen to you pitching your product. You are there to inform and educate, to provide a unique perspective.”

5. Convey Your Wisdom

Finally, thought leadership isn’t just about knowing how, it’s also about knowing why and when. Thought leadership isn’t just about expertise, it’s about wisdom and trust.

As Llopis writes:

“In a world in search of trust, it’s all about people and your thought leadership will expand the breadth and depth of who you are as a person and how others interact with you.

We are transitioning from a knowledge-based economy to a wisdom-based economy. It’s no longer just about what you know, but what you do with what you know. It’s about trust, transparency, opening up your heart and leading with kindness.”

True thought leadership means being a trusted resource – building that aspect of your knowledge is the foundation for advancement.

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