Be a thought leader (and hence a continual learner)

ImageIf you are a professional, are you taking action to become a thought leader? If you are a student interested in a certain career path, are you communicating your learnings and building your expertise? If not, you should, says Gerard Corbett, chairman and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America.

“Everybody has the opportunity to create value,” Gerry told me in a phone interview. “The platforms are there, and anyone can develop a reputation in a certain area.”

Gerry lives this out himself. Along with presiding over the United States’ largest community of public relations and communications professionals, the Philadelphia native has become a thought leader in public relations job coaching. It is a very specific niche, but for any recent college graduate who studied public relations, or for any communications professional in the field thinking about the next steps in their career, Gerry’s expertise in this area can be a valuable resource (learn more at his blog The PR Job Coach).

What is a thought leader? According to Wikipedia, the term was coined in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of Strategy & Business magazine. A “thought leader” was used to designate interview subjects for that magazine who had business ideas that merited attention.

The reality is that we all “should” have new ideas based on our daily learnings that merit attention to some extent. We often think thought leaders have to be best-selling authors, have thousands of followers on Twitter and be a regular on the speaking circuit. While that certainly wouldn’t hurt, there are other more subtle benefits.

“Everyone worries about followers, but that doesn’t matter,” says Gerry. “What is important is being strategic in our social media activity. For someone looking to establish him or herself as a thought leader, it’s about building a track record of information and knowledge. Say for example you want to do public relations for a winemaker. You should be taking the steps to build up an expertise in the area. Read lots of blogs and books about the wine industry. Then take the steps to communicate learnings. Blog at least once a month. Tweet gems about the industry. Create YouTube videos. Use Pinterest. Then, if someone in the wine industry is looking to hire a PR person, your name could very well come up in searches.”

Gerry Corbett
CEO of the PRSA

Not to be lost in all of this is how learning plays a part in developing thought leadership.  Gerry notes the following equation: learn, build thought leadership and then slowly become an expert over time. It is a unique opportunity for everyone out there to try to be a part of this equation – and one that didn’t exist in years past.

“Before the best opportunity to become known was to write a book or become a speaker,” Gerry explains. “Now with the social platforms at our disposal, anyone can become an expert and prove it. Social media has given a voice to anyone on earth with an internet connection.”

Gerry notes that one of the failures he has seen in the workforce is poor writing. By taking the steps to become a thought leader and communicating regularly via different social media platforms, student and professionals are regularly developing their writing skills.

Practicing thought leadership goes beyond communicating on social media platforms. It should come as no surprise that the CEO of the PRSA would advocate for membership in industry associations.

“Online tools have their own benefits, but nothing replaces a personal handshake and flesh to flesh. In the case of public relations, every practitioner needs to be a part of a network of like-minded professionals, not just for business development but for personal growth and career management.”