I was on the phone recently with Holly Hamann, Co-Founder and CMO of TapInfluence, talking about how they have been building a thought leadership culture throughout their organization. Holly shared some of her lessons learned and then we got to talking about some of the myths and misconceptions that scare people away from taking their first steps to building influence. Given that it’s almost Halloween, I thought I’d share a few of the most common gremlins in every team’s closet.
Building Influence is Scary at Any Age
When new people join TapInfluence, they often shy away from activities like blogging and speaking at conferences. When Holly encourages them to put their own name on a post for the company blog, they are amazed and a little scared to take ownership of their ideas. If they are in their 20’s and 30’s, she finds that they adjust pretty quickly as they have grown up with the idea of having a following online. For those 40 and over, it takes awhile longer to overcome the barriers – what I call the itty bitty shitty committee in our head that tells us we should not be standing in the spotlight.
We Can All Improve, But Get Started Anyway
One of the main gremlins haunting many members of the team is the belief that they aren’t a good writer or that they would never be able to speak before an audience of their peers. Holly encourages them to start where they are and then offers the editing assistance or the public speaking training that will help them improve. None of us can start anywhere but where we are today, but we do have to start in order to get better.
Don’t Wait to Be Anointed, Act as If
If people are still holding themselves back, Holly reminds them that they don’t need to be anointed ‘thought leader’ by some mysterious other in order to get started. I couldn’t agree more. I encourage my clients to act as if they are thought leaders every day, and eventually they will be – whether anointed or not. Try out behaviors like relentless curiosity, engage with others who love the same things you do, tell a story (rather than only relying on data and facts) to gain attention for your ideas. This will help you stand out from the everyday behavior of putting your head down and just getting the work done. And it will be a lot more fun, too.
Start With What You’re Living Every Day
One of the best ways Holly has found to get people to become influencers is to encourage them to start with what they know best. She might invite a twenty-two-year-old new grad to write about what it’s like to work at a start-up while all her friends are off traveling to Katmandu and white water rafting the Colorado river. She could encourage a new dad to write about what he’s experiencing trying to balance start-up life with a new baby who never sleeps through the night. When we begin with what we know, what we are deeply experiencing every day, we come from a place of authenticity and thus are both more likeable and more relatable. We also never run out of material to share, as every day is a new day.
Integrate Your Activities Into Your Day To Day
Writing blog posts, drafting an OpEd, creating a new speech from scratch – all of that takes time. The key is not to think of it as taking time AWAY from your work but instead integrating it into the work. Holly found that she quickly burned out if she tried to add more hours in the evenings and on weekends to focus on these sorts of activities. Instead, she had to convince her team, and herself, that they could and should make time during the work day to get this done.
Influence is Not Just for the Marketing Team
One of the more pervasive attitudes that Holly had to overcome was the belief that it was marketing’s job to build influence for the whole company. Thus, even when she started making time in her day to blog or speak at a conference, people assumed that was in her job description as CMO but that didn’t mean they had permission. On top of that, those who wanted to avoid the effort of building their own influence could use this misconception as an excuse to take no action. After all, those people in marketing are on it, right?
When We All Build Influence, Everyone Wins
Instead, what Holly advocates is that when everyone builds influence we all win. Not only do you end up having better writers and more effective speakers on the team, but they have all learned to better hone and distill their ideas. Internally, those skills might (eventually) lead to shorter emails and more productive meetings. Externally, the company is known as a great place to work and the company’s influence grows as there are more voices building into a chorus of positive messages and ideas from (and about) the organization.
Light Your Pumpkin, Then Help Others
Holly loves to amplify the activities of members of her team in her own social media or from the stage when she speaks and she encourages others to do the same. As each builds a bigger platform, they help each other to have a broader reach. This is true influencer behavior and if that doesn’t get you anointed a thought leader, nothing will.
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