“5 Things You Should Do To Become a Thought Leader In Your Industry” With Nicole Sodoma of Sodoma Law

Becoming a thought leader is worthwhile as it allows you to effect positive change, ideally. Being a thought leader doesn’t always feel like a positive part of your life; it can be exhausting. It’s not like you wake up every day with inspiring ideas and people lining up waiting to follow you. To me, part […]

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Becoming a thought leader is worthwhile as it allows you to effect positive change, ideally. Being a thought leader doesn’t always feel like a positive part of your life; it can be exhausting. It’s not like you wake up every day with inspiring ideas and people lining up waiting to follow you. To me, part of embracing this role is to inspire others to lead, to empower them to be successful. My own personal leadership statement is “I empower others to find success.” It’s not unusual for someone in a leadership position to know that, on occasion, they’re going to disappoint people. Sometimes it’s easier to just show up, but if you truly are a thought leader it’s almost impossible to JUST show up. You are always looking for an idea that’s going to set you apart, make someone’s life better, effectuate change, that serves the greater good.

As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Sodoma. Nicole is a family law attorney, certified Parenting Coordinator, the Managing Principal and founder of Sodoma Law in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is a compassionate and tenacious legal advocate known for putting families first, as well as a philanthropist, having founded the Sodoma Law Foundation in 2014. Attorneys in the firm handled cases in both NC and SC. In addition to her management responsibilities, Ms. Sodoma’s practice focuses on divorce, child custody, alimony, and other family law related cases. Ms. Sodoma has been interviewed by and contributed to national publications such as The Washington Post, INC. and Entrepreneur. Regionally, she has been featured in the Charlotte Business Journal, Charlotte Observer, Business North Carolina and holds a monthly segment on Fox 46 (WJZY) morning show Good Day Charlotte. Nicole has been recognized extensively by the NC legal community, most recently as a 2019 Super Lawyer.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Nicole! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Like many of my female peers, when deciding on a career, I was not encouraged to enter a high stakes, male dominated profession. This was in part due to my father’s (and other guiding adults’) opinion that it simply was easier, or perhaps more acceptable, for me to get married and let someone else take care of me. This is not a new story for many young girls, and for a while I thought it was my path. Where was my knight in shining armor? Little did I know, that one day not only could I be a mother, an attorney, and a business owner but I would be all three at the same time. It reminds me of that quote from Cher, “My mom said to me, ‘You know, sweetheart, you should settle down and marry a rich man.’ I said, ‘Mom, I am a rich man.’”

Today, the bigger question is: how can I make all the parts of my life which I love so dearly work together without sacrificing or compromising on success? While it is most certainly a work in progress as time evolves, here I am — mother of three, attorney, business owner, practice manager, philanthropist, visionary, writer and speaker. Boy, what I would give to be able to tell 20-year-old Nicole Sodoma that!

About that “business owner” part: when I opened the doors to Sodoma Law in 2008, I wanted to build a team who would help every client navigate the hurdles of separation and divorce with empathy and determination — in and out of court. I wanted to surround myself with people who live and breathe family law like I do. This practice is my passion; it’s not my job, but rather, who I am.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

Establishing yourself as a thought leader takes years of dedicated and strategic work. It capitalizes on your experience, drive, and reputation. Through this process I have learned a lot about becoming a thought leader, and how I can grow and use my platform to share my experiences and elevate those around me. I thrive on empowering people and forcing people to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” I encourage those around me to get out of their comfort zones to create positive change.

When I think of myself in the context of a thought leader, I have always been reminded that when faced with an obstacle, you can be an upstander, bystander, perpetrator or victim. You choose. If you refuse the behavior you witness, then you are an upstander. You have the power to make change. If you are a bystander, you do nothing. You say nothing. Are you the perpetrator? Even aligning yourself with the behavior ultimately lands you in this category. Or, are you the victim?

The momentum necessary to bring about real change often becomes lost in life’s shuffle and somehow becomes ignored until you are faced with the obstacle again. As a thought leader, I make the conscious decision to be an upstander in my industry, working hard not only to change the way the profession is perceived but to reinvent the lives of my clients. No excuses. Just because you may not have felt a direct impact of an issue, does not mean that you are free to ignore the change necessary for evolution.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

In 2008, at a time when business owners were shutting their doors or taking away benefits from their employees in order to manage the financial crisis, I opened a law firm. I was eight (8) years out of law school and decided that I could do something different. I could create a family law firm that not only supported the families we served but also supported each other. My paralegal joined me — along with her goldfish, who we lovingly named Jerry McGuire — and in 12 months, the law firm grew from 2 employees to 12 without a single job post. Some of the most talented legal professionals in the community knocked on the door to share in something special. Now, in our 11th year, through many many hard lessons and sleepless nights, I can most definitely say that founding and growing this firm has been the most interesting story of my legal career.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

A few weeks into my first job as a lawyer, a partner in the firm and I were standing in front of the elevator waiting to go to the parking garage. He asked, “What do you know about wheels, Nicole?” I’m the youngest child in my family, with four older brothers, so I figured he was challenging me — let’s see how much this girl knows about a traditionally masculine thing — which as it happens (and I subsequently told him) I know quite a bit about “wheels.” By the end of the conversation, on my drive home, I realized, “Oh no, he was asking me if I know about DRAFTING WIILLS!”. The next day, I had to seek him out to tell him that while I know a thing or two about cars, I hadn’t trained in estate planning yet. As it turns out, even though I’m a Southern girl, I definitely did not understand his equally Southern accent.

The lesson I learned? Not every southerner is the same! Just kidding. The true lesson I learned was to listen effectively and ask questions. If I had asked more questions, it would have been clear what he needed me to handle. I realized that it’s important to get all the facts, and then respond with intention, instead of reacting.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

Did you know that the term ‘thought leader’ has been around since at least 1876 (grain of salt time — this is from Wikipedia). And, though the definition of the word has morphed and changed with the times, at its core, a thought leader is an innovator, a pioneer, and a powerful cutting-edge industry voice. Being a true thought leader means that you are inventive, you inspire others to do better and be better, to think forward. A thought leader knows who they are and matches outward actions to inner self. As Viktor Frankl said, “When you know your why, you can endure any how.” At the same time, a thought leader is open to evolution — they are willing to make themselves and others uncomfortable, because that’s where the greatness happens.

In contrast, leaders and influencers are usually taking ideas that have already been invented and are elevating those into high-visibility actions that may inspire others to do the same. By contrast, a thought leader is the person who is creating those big ideas or taking a kernel of an idea and making it bigger and brighter. Thought leaders can be and usually are influential, and they can be and usually are leaders. But, I am not convinced that all influencers are thought leaders.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader? Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

Becoming a thought leader is worthwhile as it allows you to effect positive change, ideally. Being a thought leader doesn’t always feel like a positive part of your life; it can be exhausting. It’s not like you wake up every day with inspiring ideas and people lining up waiting to follow you. To me, part of embracing this role is to inspire others to lead, to empower them to be successful. My own personal leadership statement is “I empower others to find success.” It’s not unusual for someone in a leadership position to know that, on occasion, they’re going to disappoint people. Sometimes it’s easier to just show up, but if you truly are a thought leader it’s almost impossible to JUST show up. You are always looking for an idea that’s going to set you apart, make someone’s life better, effectuate change, that serves the greater good.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

Generally speaking, thought leaders succeed in engaging because they are seen as an individual that has an all-encompassing, unique and impactful view of their area of expertise. That person is generally trusted, regularly engages in industry conversations, and has an overall positive reputation. Leveraging thought leadership in your business development techniques can increase brand value, help attract top-notch talent, boost public relations and marketing efforts, and increase business opportunities. There is a myriad of ways businesses can incorporate a thought leadership approach.

Content is king. 
The content that thought leaders create and share elevates them above their competitors. It is never content just for the sake of content — it is insightful, unique, and answers the questions that the industry poses with experience and grace. Utilizing thought leadership in your online content marketing elevates not just your content, but your brand. When you create captivating content, people are more likely to engage with it, and they’re more likely to think of you the next time they’re searching for information on a certain topic. When you are seen as someone who understands the industry, consumer needs, and the big picture, people in the community are more likely to engage and share your content online because they trust you. Leveraging thought leadership across your online marketing, public relations, and social media efforts is a way to leave a mark.

Using a thought leader’s platform. 
Once you have been established as a thought leader in your field, you can share that platform with others in your industry. Thanks to our content creation and public relations strategy, our attorneys are regularly interviewed for regional and national media on a wide variety of topics. We are featured on a monthly segment called #YourLegalBrief on Fox 46 Charlotte’s “Good Day Charlotte” show. I was the launchpad for the segment, but quickly moved that into sharing the platform with my colleagues because 1) we’re able to cover a wider range of topics and 2) a rising tide raises all ships. This coverage allows us to build rapport with our communities and potential clients and to establish ourselves, not just as attorneys, but as credible resources and trustworthy advocates. These opportunities showcase us as thought leaders, yes — but more importantly, they allow us to educate and connect with our communities.

Charitable Causes.

I encourage each of my firm’s attorneys to set their own personal business development goals and to engage in charitable causes in their communities. Cultivating personal relationships is hard work, but it is necessary work. These goals range from writing articles for the firm’s website about their charitable work, to sitting on committees and boards of charitable causes, to attending good old-fashioned one-on-one networking coffees. My leadership team and I know that everyone is passionate about something, and passion is what drives thought leaders. By giving our attorneys room to explore and support the causes they are most passionate about, they can grow professionally and begin to establish themselves as thought leaders in their own communities and niches.

I also believe in Corporate Social Responsibility, which is why I created the Sodoma Law Foundation. When you support your community, they have the tendency to support you. Thought leaders don’t always have to be industry titans, sometimes they are philanthropic warriors, too.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

  1. Become a resource for media who are writing about issues you care about and in which you have expertise and by so doing, contribute your insights to media coverage of “in the news” issues of relevance. I regularly speak with or create opportunities for my colleagues to speak with regional and national media on topics including legislation impacting divorce, child custody and adoption issues; domestic violence; and sexual harassment.
  2. Involvement with your community, including both organizations directly related to your industry AND those that serve causes in which you believe. I founded the Sodoma Law Foundation in 2014, supporting organizations addressing issues to which my firm is deeply committed: those that improve the well-being of children regionally and nationally, and those that support the charitable endeavors of my regional legal community.
  3. Keep learning and keep sharing that knowledge; there’s a reason the legal profession calls what we do a “practice;” the reason continuing legal education is required by bar associations. This concept is relevant to every single profession and in my opinion, this philosophy is part of the ‘secret sauce’ of thought leadership. On my leadership team, we take the approach of a cascading leadership platform — this means each leader is responsible for teaching those leadership skills, for sharing tools with others in the firm. Cascading leadership is practical; especially in larger, multi-location organizations, each leader cannot effectively reach everyone in the organization individually — at least not on a daily basis. Using the “cascading” method, I work to empower others by creating an approach that meets people where they are, turns them on and gets out of their way so that they can take the leadership skills, the lessons they’re learning, and not only grow from those lessons but also teach others.
  4. Be the model of the professional you want to see in your industry — set yourself high standards, communicate those standards to your colleagues and clients, and then walk the talk. I took the usual “mission statement” for my firm a step further, creating an approach to the practice of law and client service: The Sodoma Way. Every action I take as leader of this firm, as a leader in my community, and as an advocate for my clients, is informed by this credo.
  5. What you focus on is what you become — so focus on what works but choose to be fearless. Recognize your choice. You don’t have to wake up every day and decide you want to be a thought leader, but if you’re going to succeed at it, you make that choice and give it all you got.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

Kellie King, CEO of Branch, Banking & Trust. In 2018, I was invited to join a private lunch hosted by some of the executives at BB&T with Kellie King. Mr. King sat at the head of the table among 15 business owners and other decision makers, including me. During that luncheon, Mr. King began to share his philosophies on business, family and faith. He shared simple concepts that, filled with the right passion and purpose, can effectuate long-lasting positive change. I have attended other events with Mr. King and his messages are unwavering. He recognizes the influence he has on tens of thousands of employees every day and knows that it doesn’t take much to change a life.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

I think the term is overused, watered down, much like the word boutique for small offices who want to set themselves apart — or any other word that becomes trendy. That said, I do think there is opportunity to redefine and reclaim it through holding the term to a higher standard.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

  • If you always do what you always did you will always get what you always got.
  • Make a top 10 list every day or every week. What you don’t get to was never that important.
  • Listen more and listen better.
  • Let other people inspire you. Podcasts, seminars, classes, coffee with mentors…just never stop learning.
  • Have at least one project that feels like a win every week.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe in “acts of service”. I’m not sure if it is my love language, but I know that we get out of the community what we put into it. I’d love to inspire a movement that involved our youth engaging in acts of service — whether that be joining the military or volunteering at a local shelter. The things we learn from serving not just our own interests, but the interests of those around us and our community are lessons that can’t be taught with a textbook.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor Frankl

It fits into every relationship, profession and even parenthood. Courtroom advocacy can be incredibly difficult. Tempers rise and professionalism is challenged when high conflict exists. Not only do the attorneys need to check their egos but clients need to as well.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Oprah. Not because of her celebrity but her ability to make change wherever she goes, and not always with her money but with her leadership and intention. This success is shown in how she runs her company and how people respond to her leadership with action.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook: www.facebook.com/sodomalaw

Twitter: www.twitter.com/sodomalaw and www.twitter.com/nsodoma

Instagram: www.instagram.com/thesodomaway

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/sodomalaw and linkedin.com/nsodoma

Website www.sodomalaw.com

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCi51C8Ks0u6xISNhixNKoMg

Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

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