“Remember what’s important.” So many times, we’re distracted, and aren’t focusing on what we should be- the people and things that we love- after all, they are what make life worthwhile. So, always remember what’s important and make time for it in your life!
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlene Walters.
Charlene Walters, MBA, PhD, is an entrepreneurship coach, business and branding mentor, trainer and author of Launch Your Inner Entrepreneur. She serves as a mentor on Entrepreneur magazine’s “Ask an Expert” forum and through her own consulting business (Charlene Walters, MBA, PhD, LLC), is featured among other CEOs, Influencers and Celebrities on the BAM Network and was recently selected as one of 150 Marketers to Follow by Rubicly. Charlene developed a digital entrepreneurship MBA program and is an entrepreneur who enjoys combining her knowledge and love of marketing and business strategy with her passion for innovation and desire to help others succeed.
Charlene also wrote a memoir about overcoming tragedy/loss and moving forward in life based on her own personal experience (pre-publication). As part of that, she serves as a speaker and mentor to others, and writes and contributes to numerous publications on business and motivational topics. Charlene also writes a blog called Entrepreneurship, Life Enthusiasm & Energizing Your Brand and has taught hundreds of business, marketing and entrepreneurship courses and workshops for businesses and universities.
Charlene is also a busy single mom currently living in Charlotte, North Carolina with her two beautiful daughters.
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?
Absolutely. I’d be happy to. I grew up in Connecticut and moved to Miami as soon as I graduated with an undergraduate degree in English (goodbye snow). I started my career in sales and marketing and really enjoyed the hustle of making deals and matching customers with products which led to my growing love of business. I decided to pursue my MBA in management. From there, I went on to earn my PhD in marketing. I continued to move on professionally to other positions in marketing and higher education before eventually creating a digital entrepreneurship MBA program. I loved the energy of it- it was wonderful to be able to work with business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. I also began to do some mentoring with Entrepreneur’s “Ask an Expert” Platform.
Next, I wrote the book Launch Your Inner Entrepreneur: 10 Mindset Shifts for Women to Take Action, Unleash Creativity and Achieve Financial Success (which will be published 2/23/21) and launched my own company to work on speaking, consulting, mentoring and training full-time as an entrepreneurship coach and business and branding mentor. I also became a mom along the way which is still one of my biggest accomplishments.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
Sure. I have worked hard to establish myself as a thought leader over the years by contributing to media outlets, speaking, writing a blog and becoming an author. I also work with entrepreneurs and other business professionals to hone their personal brands and achieve their professional goals. I talk specifically about becoming a thought leader, and its importance, in my new book. You have to put yourself out there and show what you know in business! You are the face of your brand after all- no one else is going to do it for you. So, go ahead and share your thoughts. People are listening and want to hear what you have to say!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
So many interesting things have happened to me during my career, that it’s hard to pick just one story. I think it would probably have to be some of the connections that I’ve made along the way (you never know who you’ll bump into on LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram and in person) and how I’ve kept pivoting over and over again; those are the two things that are most interesting about me. If nothing else, I am determined and love interacting with people so I’ve leaned on those qualities repeatedly. You can always count on me to make things happen because I don’t give up easily and think that forming new collaborations is fun.
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?
I am sure that I have made plenty of mistakes along the way, but one time, I managed to send a pitch document out with tracked changes visible. Yikes! I was trying to move too fast. Patience is something that I continue to work on and it got the better of me in that case. From that silly mistake, I learned to slow down a bit.
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 seen as an expert in their industry or about a certain topic or topics. It’s an individual who contributes their thoughts, opinions and ideas about a particular space. It’s also someone who is putting out valuable content and offering commentary on current issues, opportunities or advances within an industry or about certain topics or ideas.
A thought leader is different than a typical leader because a thought leader is a person who is highly visible in terms of sharing their knowledge and expertise. A typical leader is more so leading a group or an organization. A thought leader has a wider reach. Thought leaders are similar to influencers in that they are both very active on social media and sharing information. A thought leader often takes it a step further, however, in order to establish themselves as an authority, but someone can certainly be both an influencer and a thought leader.
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?
It is certainly worthwhile to establish yourself as a thought leader for many reasons. The main one is that if you provide people with valuable content and ideas, they will begin to follow what you’re saying and when an opportunity arises for your company or someone like you, you will be top of mind because they will have gained familiarity with you. It can also help you establish trust and credibility which is so important today whether you are an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur.
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?
Yes! When you establish yourself as a thought leader, it really helps you with networking. You get to know others in your industry, community or space. I’ve been asked to speak at events, be a guest on podcasts and have been invited to participate in other opportunities all because someone saw me or read about me online through thought leadership pieces. You also gain a larger following through posting thought leadership content which can lead to job opportunities and additional sales if you are an entrepreneur.
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.
Sure. Becoming a thought leader just takes time, persistence and the ability to insert yourself into the conversation. The first step that you should take is identifying 2–3 areas that you want to be known for. These topics will vary based on your talent, skills, experience and ultimate goals. Then strategize about different ways that you can consistently put valuable content out there through writing or speaking. Often, the simplest way to start writing is through a blog which can usually be done right there on your website- they often have blogging capabilities built in. I write a blog called Entrepreneurship, Life Enthusiasm and Energizing Your Brand. You can also contribute to media outlets and look for quote opportunities. I do this all the time and have made a lot of new connections that way. If you’re in real estate, perhaps you can distribute a guide about your local area. If you run a cosmetics company, maybe you can record videos featuring how-to makeup videos and tips.
In terms of speaking, there are numerous possibilities. You can create courses, hold workshops and virtual training sessions. You can also book speaking gigs at industry associations and virtual events. Additionally, you can create videos or begin podcasting which allows you more opportunities to network by inviting guests to join your podcast. Next, put content out there as often and consistently as you can. The last, or fifth step, is to engage with other thought leaders and those in your space. Join in on important discussions- the more you put yourself out there, the more you will get back in return. I often get invited on podcasts and to do workshops and guest blogs through my interaction with others on social media.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone 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.
There are many, many amazing thought leaders out there. Someone who I think is an excellent role model for female entrepreneurs and women in business is Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran. What I especially like about her is that she turns back and helps lift up others too by being a mentor and motivator. She was at the forefront of it all in terms of becoming a thought leader and her name is now synonymous with entrepreneurship as a result- the ultimate in thought leadership achievement. Her backstory is impressive too. You can read more about it and her too in her book Shark Tales.
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 the term thought leader is appropriate. I like it better than expert or guru which seem to imply that someone has all the answers. Thought leaders don’t have all the answers but are willing to put themselves and their ideas out there.
Any terms that become popular do tend to become overused to some extent, but thought leader sums it up perfectly so I don’t believe it’s trite.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
In terms of thought leadership, you have to be patient and continue to insert yourself over time. Establishing yourself as a thought leader won’t happen overnight. Don’t try to be everywhere. Pick several avenues that you want to use to distribute your content and stick with them consistently. If you decide to blog once a week, do it. If you choose to release how-to videos, pick a schedule and maintain it.
In order to thrive with anything and avoid burnout, you have to place an emphasis on time management, productivity and work-life balance. So, don’t overcommit, and stick with those things you pick and provide consistent value while taking care of yourself at the same time.
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. 🙂
There are so many worthy causes, and it’s difficult to narrow it down, but I am very passionate about helping women elevate themselves through entrepreneurship and education, particularly single mothers who are the sole breadwinners for their families. I understand what they go through because I have lived it myself. Women are at a disadvantage and typically have to juggle much more than their male counterparts so they would really benefit from some extra backing.
I would love to start a movement to help support these women, providing them with the tools to develop the mindset and the skills that they need to be successful in business, and to foster work-life balance which is more challenging for women, and again, single mothers in particular. This movement would also benefit their children, through positive role modeling and support, and therefore clearly impact future generations.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have a few that I always share: “Own your other,” “Keep moving forward,” and “Remember what’s important.” These lessons apply to business, entrepreneurship and life. What I mean by “own your other” is that sometimes life doesn’t turn out how we planned and we end up outside of the norm, or in a place different than what we’d originally envisioned. In those moments, we mourn the loss of the experience or opportunity that we’d originally hoped for. It happened to me when my husband passed away suddenly (when my children were only two and four). I abruptly became a single mother with a full-time job, mid-PhD, dealing with unexpected grief and juggling a lot. I fought my new reality at first, but it wasn’t until I fully accepted and owned my “other,” that I began to thrive on my alternate path, going on to achieve many things that I hadn’t originally imagined.
My strongest advice to anyone who finds themselves as an “other” for any reason, is to embrace it and realize that being an “other” is okay and often has a bright side. Whether you feel like an “other” in a company, situation, or group, the sooner you learn to own your alternate situation, the sooner you will thrive on your new path.
Right now, many people have been laid off or furloughed due to the shifting economy, and will need to accept and own their “others” to launch businesses, land even better positions, keep forging on and ultimately go on to achieve their dreams.
“Keep moving forward” is another biggie. No matter what happens, no matter what type of setback or disappointment you encounter, it is important to keep going after your dreams and goals. There is no quick path to success. It is going to take a lot of zigs and zags and ups and downs to make it happen. Anything worth accomplishing is going to take a lot of hard work and patience to achieve. Stay the course and learn to see the good in the bad, and always have a Plan B ready just in case.
Finally, “Remember what’s important.” So many times, we’re distracted, and aren’t focusing on what we should be- the people and things that we love- after all, they are what make life worthwhile. So, always remember what’s important and make time for it in your 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. 🙂
So, funny story. I have been going around talking about my book, Launch Your Inner Entrepreneur, which comes out in February. Suddenly one day I realized something- my book is following Matthew McConaughey’s book Greenlights. How do I follow Matthew McConaughey? LOL. So, Matthew McConaughey, if you are listening, I’d love to invite you to a virtual lunch- tacos and margaritas maybe- to get some tips about your book launch (how can a girl keep up?) and hear more about your cool life. What do you say, Matthew? Are you in?
How can our readers follow you online?
I want to thank you and your readers for taking the time to learn more about me. I am so appreciative and humbled.
LinkedIn- @Charlene Walters, PhD
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.