Everyone wants to be a winner. In my quest to be a “thought leader” in technology, I casually mentioned to my wife, recently, that I read more technology and business “stuff” in a week than I read in a whole semester in college. Never one to let me get away with anything, she replied, “not surprising, I knew you in college…” – Cue laughter here.
My wife’s comments notwithstanding, this forced me to think about what it really means to be a thought leader in whatever area you desire to be recognized as an expert. In my early days of IT I had a very basic mindset. If a computer or network broke, go fix it in the best way possible.
Ten years later, technology to me was more about managing projects, or in general, “change management.”
Fast forward another ten years, I seem to think a lot more about technology strategy – making sure technology is aligned to business needs or even just risk management. Using this more mature strategy model, I am convinced business owners and senior managers should spend time in several different areas as they consider their technology needs.
Trends and marketplace
As a thought leader, I believe you have to have a wide vision of the entire marketplace and an understanding of where to go to get additional information. I constantly ingest top business books on tape, I consume white papers on desired technology topics and I periodically review various digital media to understand trends and best practices related to business and technology.
I meet with peer organizations quarterly and constantly asked team members about their learnings and observations during one on ones or other collaborative sessions. Make sure you are looking for those opportunities in your industry to collaborate, research, learn and otherwise become an expert at whatever you have chosen as your craft.
A business owner might also be able to attend industry events, read industry periodicals or become involved in industry or local associations. Business groups such as Vistage, The Alternative Board and others give you an opportunity to compare yourself, your business and your technology to understand which things work.
Where there’s a will, there’s a few ways
In technology, there are sometimes many different ways to accomplish similar goals. A thought leader should know various methods and options for accomplishment within their particular field. Even if you only have a single product or service you represent, you should understand how the competition is the same, and how the competition is different.
That might mean sometimes your way isn’t the best way or your solution isn’t ideal for your client. Thought leaders must always be mindful of their audiences and that they are working on their audience’s behalf. The challenge in our modern economy is to balance becoming a subject matter expert without losing sight of alternative solutions and strategies that might be more appropriate.
This applies to technology in that something as simple as working remotely could be handled by various methods. Method A might be easier for the end-users to access their systems. Method B might be better for people only needing access to files. Method C might be more reliable. Method D might just be easier all around. A business owner has to make sure they understand their own needs so that their technologist can select the best solution for their need.
Structure and routine will set you free
From sports to business, from education and beyond, discipline helps breed success. True thought leaders will have cultivated a structured approach to their key processes. In their business, they probably have created standard operating procedures (SOPs), checklists and systems to help achieve predictable results.
The value in having a right way is more than just standardization; it is clarity when the situation requires deviation. In other words, it is easy to recognize that 5% of customization when your mind can relax with a 95% that is done exactly the same way every single time. Embrace, love and pursue your own organizations standards and best practices.
Sometimes when I am having business discussions with executives I refer to the many questions associated with the Malcolm Baldrige award. If the award is a representation of quality and the questions help you understand if quality is there, then understanding your answers to these questions might help you determine what technology best supports your business needs.
Inspire client confidence
This is one of our core values because it requires the previous three areas to be executed properly. You have to do your homework, select the most appropriate options and be able to consistently execute. Only after completing all three have you earned the respect and trust of your client and team. Everybody wants to be successful at whatever it is that we do. Hold yourself accountable to be that thought leader for your particular area and you will feel good about yourself.
Our businesses is about technology and there are frameworks for IT management, service delivery, quality, project management, technology design and troubleshooting. You can ask me to rattle off the different names and what they mean later. But the most impactful framework we follow is modeled in the Verne Harnish book, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. Simply, it focuses on areas to better manage your business.
In the end, even the best of us have room to grow. For every area I feel I have mastered, I always find new things to learn. One of my favorite quotes from Alan Weiss, author of Million Dollar Consulting is, “It’s amazing to me how stupid I was two weeks ago”.
I even recently came across a humorous video on thought leadership that proves I still have a lot to learn. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZBKX-6Gz6A&feature=youtu.be Be sure to check it out – unless you have any qualms about poking fun at yourself.