A thought leader is someone who is recognized as a visionary and who can communicate that vision. Their vision often requires a paradigm shift or thinking “outside of the box.” It is a person who believes in change and sees opportunities where others see obstacles. They are creative, risk takers, not satisfied with the status quo and says yes when everyone else might be saying no. A leader, while sharing several similar qualities, takes direction and executes while the original direction given originates from a thought leader. An influencer is responsible for taking an idea that has been developed by thought leaders and helps to deliver it to their audience.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachael Sablotsky Kish, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Imalac, a med-tech company which created Nurture, one of the first innovations in the world of lactation. Nurture is a breast pump accessory that makes a pump work better. By providing gentle, hands-free massage, it reduces pump time and increases milk output. Kish became a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) in order to educate and train women on the anatomy, physiology and psychology of breastfeeding and how milk production works. Kish graduated from University of Florida in 2005 with a BS in Marketing. She began her professional career in the field of commercial real estate with Terranova Corporation in 2005 and is now going on her 10th year as a Fundraising professional. From 2007 to 2008, Kish took a break from her career to go back to school for her Masters in Business Administration at the University of Miami. Upon receiving her MBA, she resumed her career as a development professional with Frost Science. Other organizations Kish has worked for are the United Way of Miami-Dade, Jewish Women International and most recently with Baptist Health of South Florida. In addition, Kish has received the 2018 Babson WinLab Award and the Bronze Stevie Award for Women In Business. Imalac was also chosen to be a finalist in the 2019 Babylist Best of Baby Tech Awards and most recently, one of eight South Florida companies to participate in the Rise of the Rest pitch competition. Kish resides in Miami, Florida with her husband and their three children. To connect with Kish, check out her LinkedIn. For more information on Imalac, visit www.imalac.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family and was known to speak my mind and follow my own path from an early age. I began my career in the non-profit sector, fundraising for various organizations such as Frost Science Museum, Jewish Women International and most recently, Baptist Health South Florida. During my tenure as a fundraising professional I always felt like something was missing and wasn’t meeting my full potential. I always had the desire to follow my family’s entrepreneurial path and over the years had started a few small businesses, including Delish by Kish, a challah baking business. It wasn’t until approaching my mother about joining forces that I really felt passionate about working toward something that would make a difference in many people’s lives.
Timing really was everything when it came to the inception of Imalac and creation of Nurture by Imalac. By a twist of fate, my mother Noreen and I were both introduced to the concept of breast massage and hand expression for nursing mothers at the same time, yet under two completely separate circumstances.
I, prior to becoming a Certified Lactation Counselor, was breastfeeding my first child and noticed that my results drastically increased when I manually massaged my breasts while using my breast pump. However, the process was leaving my hands tired, and it made pumping even more physically and emotionally demanding than it already was. I also became frustrated with my inability to multitask even though I was using a “hands-free” pumping bra.
Meanwhile, my mother was involved with a Med Tech accelerator in Israel, where entrepreneurs were exploring the benefits of simulating hand expression while breast pumping and evaluating technology that could accomplish it, however, the concept was never commercialized.
When I was about to have my second child, I approached my mother with the idea of joining forces to bring a product to market that would help nursing mothers improve their odds for success with a more positive pumping experience. My mother and I were both inspired by our personal experiences as mothers and business development experts, and Nurture was born.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
Being an authority about the topic of thought leadership requires a specific voice, stance and opinion that can’t be apologized for. Throughout my life I have evolved from being labeled a “troublemaker” as a child for capitalizing on the opinions and passions I once couldn’t control, to expanding my empathy and compassion to become the person I am today.
As a female leader who is a visionary and outspoken, I have experienced being marginalized by being deemed too “aggressive” or “emotional.” What I have learned in life is that while this is frustrating, it is crucial to not let this opinion win. By staying true to my outspoken, opinionated, yet empathetic self, I have gained respect as a leader and consider myself a success as I continue my work in many arenas.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I first decided that I wanted to find a solution to make hands on pumping easier, I was of course basing it on my own experience and using my own struggles to drive my ambition in creating this product.
It wasn’t until my co-founder and I visited NYC for Beta Testing that the motivating factor behind my drive evolved. Visiting participants of the beta testing at their homes and offices, hearing their stories and witnessing their struggles first hand, made a huge impact.
It was during these visits that we realized the gravity of what we were doing. We weren’t just creating a solution to a problem and we weren’t just making my own life easier. We were in the process of making a difference in so many women’s lives.
During this trip, we came face to face with the statistics that assured us we had a business idea. The statistics were real women, struggling with meeting their breastfeeding goals, just like me. After meeting them face to face, we were even more determined to make a difference in their breastfeeding journeys.
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?
Since starting Imalac, we interviewed many design and engineering teams to help develop our breast pump accessory. Somehow, we hired a team of all male engineers to design this breast massage system for nursing mothers. As you could imagine, there was initially a HUGE learning curve.
The result were many all-female trips into their bathroom, testing the product and subsequently trying to describe the issue, whatever it was that day, that needed correcting.
Despite the temptation to show them how it really looked and worked on our own bodies, we managed to maintain a very professional relationship with the engineers and found humor in the situation.
Finally, once the communication barrier peaked in frustration, one of the lead engineer’s wife was working in the office that day and we said, “Take your wife and get her to try it for you please!”
We are grateful for this team’s hard work and patience with essentially blind testing their design. The lessons we took away from this experience is that communication is key, patience is required, determination is crucial, and when the going gets tough — have a laugh.
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?
A thought leader is someone who is recognized as a visionary and who can communicate that vision. Their vision often requires a paradigm shift or thinking “outside of the box.” It is a person who believes in change and sees opportunities where others see obstacles. They are creative, risk takers, not satisfied with the status quo and says yes when everyone else might be saying no.
A leader, while sharing several similar qualities, takes direction and executes while the original direction given originates from a thought leader. An influencer is responsible for taking an idea that has been developed by thought leaders and helps to deliver it to their audience.
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?
Being a thought leader makes for a more interesting and challenging life and career. Opportunities to interact with like-minded individuals provide experiences to grow and learn from them personally and intellectually.
Having this eagerness to learn, grow and develop in a variety of aspects in life will make you unstoppable. Never think you know enough, never think you know it all, and always be on the hunt for more knowledge and self-development.
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.
- Listen. Listen means not just to hear it means to be an empathic listener. It means not formulating your response when you should still be listening. It means to understand and to ask questions. Lots of questions. Story: Not only do I recognize this as hugely important, but I also recognize it as one of my biggest opportunities that I’m continuously working on. One set back I’ve noticed in my opinionated self is my eagerness to share, regardless of appropriate timing. My advice is, as long as you are aware of your opportunities and are open to constructive feedback and self-development, then it won’t hold you back from succeeding.
- Learn. You cannot be a leader in anything if you don’t have knowledge and expertise on the topic. Learning comes from a place of humility beginning with the assumption that you do not know everything that there is to know. Surround yourself with others who are more knowledgeable. They will make you look smarter than you really are. Story: To be a thought leader, it is imperative that you recognize your own weaknesses and fill the gaps with those around you. Imalac wouldn’t be the company it is today without my co-founder and mother, Noreen’s knowledge and experience. However, it is also hugely important that while you lean on others, to make sure you are listening and learning to ever evolve and grow from these relationships.
- Lead. You can’t be afraid to speak up, to ask questions, to give your opinion. Even if it’s not popular. Validate other’s ideas. Say “yes and” rather than “no but”. Make sure of and check your intentions. Are they in line with the vision or organization or company? Is the mission still relevant? Does it need to change? Is change desired? Make allies. You cannot change anything alone. Leadership takes courage and a strong belief in self it is not for the faint of heart. At times leadership can be a very lonely enterprise. You should develop a team that includes: a mentor, coach and friends who will tell you the truth, be a sounding board and who’s advice and feedback you trust and value. Story: This ties back to my challenge with listening. My opinionated and outspoken attributes occasionally lend to my being quick to judge and shutdown an idea. I have learned that it is so crucial to balance listening and feedback. As a thought leader, you can stay true to yourself while remaining open and respecting the thoughts and opinions of those surrounding you.
- Leap. We all know the term analysis can lead to paralyses. Kierkegard spoke of a leap of faith in which he meant there are places where your intellect can only take you only so far. All the data and analysis will still lead to moments when faith in yourself and your vision will demand that you take action and dynamic things can happen when you make that leap. Story: Imalac joined a WIN lab (women innovating now) competition for local start-ups. We joined, nervous, skeptical and trepidatious. Months later, we won the competition and took home our very first investment check. Have courage. Push yourself. Go out of your comfort zone. You may fall on your face (we have lost other competitions as well), but make sure to get back up. Amazing things will happen!
- Look again. Don’t be afraid to fail and make sure you keep repeating the steps above. Don’t rest on the laurels of your success and fall into the trap that what you have accomplished in the past will necessarily work in the future. A pet peeve of mine are people who say “ Well, we have always done it this way”. Don’t get old and moldy and become one of these people. Story: We have joined several start up competitions since winning our first and have lost. We keep trying! We have heard “no” a lot. We keep on pitching. Keep pushing and don’t let rejection, fear or set backs keep you from moving forward.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that 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.
Sara Blakley, founder of Spanx, is an amazing example of a female thought leader as she had an idea, persevered through rejection, and created an empire.
A favorite story of mine, which I relate to with my several pumping demo sessions using our product, is her visit to Neiman Marcus Group. She changed into her product in the ladies restroom in the presence of the Neiman Marcus buyer to prove the benefits of her innovation.
Sara Blakley was determined and didn’t let “no” stop her. There are many more lessons outside her path to success that we can learn from. She remained down to earth, relatable, true to herself and family, all while building a philanthropic and successful empire.
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?
There is no growth without thought leadership. Lack of vision and the ability to challenge the status quo is imperative in any successful business or organization. In a small start-up business such as Imalac, the ability to take risks, adapt and pivot is essential in order to thrive and succeed. For example, our product is a completely new technological innovation within a market where no one was creatively trying to solve the biggest pain points. It has taken years for us to design our product and making many adaptations along the way.
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 that like many terms in life, “thought leader” is one that can be used and misused.
Identifying a thought leader is not an issue. Recognizing a thought leader isn’t an issue. The importance lies in the voice and values of the thought leader themselves.
I believe it is important to recognize that a thought leader isn’t successful without the team standing behind them. Being aware that even if it’s your voice leading a team, you won’t make it without recognizing, supporting and encouraging the voice and growth of those around you.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Identify your priorities, create a work/life balance and set boundaries.
Take breaks from your thought leadership obligations and check out from time to time. Prioritize your friends, family and health. Surround yourself with positive people and know who your true friends are.
You are a person of enormous influence. Ask yourself: 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!
A movement of acceptance. I feel that I am already taking a step in this direction with Imalac’s effort to normalize breastfeeding. In addition to advocating for this movement by sharing related articles and triggering discussion, we started our own #DontMessWithTheBreast where women are encouraged to share personal photos from their breastfeeding journey in an effort to normalize this behavior.
Normalizing breastfeeding not only has an impact on the mother, baby and their families, but also on co-workers, friends and strangers who they cross paths with. For every person we can encourage to recognize breastfeeding as a normal and healthy bodily function, we can also hope to open their eyes to accepting others in a variety of aspects in life.
Normalizing breastfeeding may seem like a small niche in the grand scheme of acceptance, but it is a huge step in society’s ability to be open minded and accepting of each others differences, no matter what they may be.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Have courage and be kind.”
Take risks and go outside your comfort zone, but be a good person in the process — don’t compromise who you are and what you believe to get there. This is a practice I strive to teach my kids every day and implement in my daily life.
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. 🙂
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Imalac’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/NurturebyImalac
Imalac’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NurturebyImalac/?ref=br_rs
Imalac’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nurturebyimalac/
Rachael’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachael-sablotsky-kish-255a1710
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.