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Dr. Carol Parker Walsh: “How Thought Leaders Can Avoid Burnout”

Now that burnout is a legitimate medical diagnosis, according to the International Classification of Diseases, people can actually use their medical coverage to treat burnout, but it’s best to avoid it. Thought leaders are often workaholics so to avoid burn out it’s important to take periodic breaks for relaxation and self-care. You can start by […]

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Now that burnout is a legitimate medical diagnosis, according to the International Classification of Diseases, people can actually use their medical coverage to treat burnout, but it’s best to avoid it. Thought leaders are often workaholics so to avoid burn out it’s important to take periodic breaks for relaxation and self-care. You can start by actually taking your weekends off. Take time to connect with friends over dinner, catching a movie with your partner, taking a spa day, or going for a weekend getaway. Other contributors to burnout, that are not talked about enough include: (a) doing work that’s not aligned with your strengths and abilities; (b) working in an environment that’s not compatible with your values; or (c) working without any clear goals, desires or plan for your career causing you to feel unmotivated, uninspired or unfulfilled.


As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Carol Parker Walsh. Dr. Walsh is a career strategist and professional branding expert that helps high-achieving professional women at midlife unapologetically step into their calling. Carol has coached entrepreneurs, executives, leaders, professionals, including a Grammy Award winner and Paralympic Gold Medalist. With almost 30 years experience as an attorney, management consultant, executive, professor, and dean, Carol currently runs a successful award-winning professional development practice. A TEDx, DENT and sought-after keynote speaker, two-time Amazon #1 best selling author, member of Forbes Coaches Council, and TV personality, appearing regularly on ABC’s AM Northwest Morning Show, Carol has also been seen in Forbes, Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Medium, PopSugar, Who What Wear, Sisters of AARP and on CBS, NBC and FOX. She has done post-doctoral work at Harvard University and was the past Editor-in-Chief of the AICI Global Magazine.


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

I’ve always been a bit of an opinionated rebel, much to father’s joy and my mother’s dismay, but it has served me well through my life and career. It’s what lead me to pursue law to represent the rights of employees, to work within organizations to become more effective employers, to academia to teach the next generation of leaders how to take a heart-centered approach to leadership, and finally, after a near-fatal car accident, to create my own coaching practice where I help professional women in leadership, step into their life’s work and live life on their terms. My greatest inspirations growing up were my father and my aunt because they frequently colored outside of the lines when it came to how they lived their lives (which both shocked and excited me at the same time); and as a mother of two kiddos, I’ve work to inspire them to do the same.

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

I’d say my over 30 year career, education and leadership in the employment field. I have a law degree in employment and labor law and 10 years in the field, 10 years as a Director of HR and management consultant, additional masters and doctorate degrees in human development, organizational behavior and leadership, and another 12 years as a professor, dean, consultant, coach, trainer. As a result of my work I’ve appeared in book chapters, journals, on the cover of magazines, made numerous television appearances and been cited in various media outlets. I would say that gives me some authority.

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

One of my most powerful moments happened when I was walking through the airport, heading out to keynote an organization’s national conference, a woman yelled out my name and told me that she follows me, has seen me on television, and that I inspire her every day. What was so powerful about that experience, and it has since happened a few more times since then, is that it let me know that I have a responsibility to be mindful, truthful and authentic about what I share and how I present myself in the public space.

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?

Earlier in my career, as a young lawyer, I was often mistaken for a legal secretary by opposing male counsel prior to entering a deposition, hearing or trial. Not only did I look considerably younger than my age at the time, but as a black woman, it was easier to see me more as a subordinate than a peer. While discrimination is not a funny thing, I definitely enjoyed how unsettled they were when I appeared across from them, and it was even more enjoyable when I prevailed in the case. It was a great lesson to not let other’s opinion of you to become your opinion of you. If I had let that rattle me, I would not have been able to use their discomfort to my advantage or be as effective in my job.

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?

In a nutshell, I would define a thought leader as an individual who offers their insight and guidance based on their expertise, knowledge, or extensive training to others and has the ability to motivate, inspire and influence them to take action.

When I think of a leader, I think of someone either assigned to the role or elected to a position to provide vision and guidance in relationship to a particular task or goal. A thought leader is a sought-after expert in their field beyond any particular role or position.

There’s been a lot of conversation about the difference between a thought leader and influencer, particularly with the advent of social media and the quest for substantial followers. While I believe a thought leader is an influencer, not all influencers are thought leaders. A thought leader inspires people to consider a new, different, or innovative perspective or they challenge the status quo forcing others to rethink previously held beliefs or even a way of life. Moreover, a thought leaders ideas and insight are based on their considerable expertise, not necessarily through paid sponsorships. Most influencers are paid to share their opinion of a singular experience with a product or service for the purpose of “influencing” others to make a purchase. An influencer invites you to buy, a thought leader invites you to grow, develop or change.

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?

I don’t believe people who are considered “thought leaders” set out to become one. In fact, most thought leaders are both surprised and honored by the designation. You become a thought leader through your investment of time, education, resources, energy and experience learning and understanding your area of expertise. This commitment gives thought leaders great insight into not only what’s working and not working in their field, but enables them to drive the conversation and shape the future of their industry or even society-at-large.

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?

As I mentioned earlier, I believe thought leaders are influencers, so one of the more lucrative opportunities is speaking. As a keynote, you can earn anywhere from $5000 to $10,000 per talk. You can also increase your visibility and expand your brand reputation through other media outlets. It’s definitely been the case for me.

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. Educate yourself — The landscape of our society consistently evolves and changes. As a thought leader you must always be a student of your field, understanding what, if any, impact these large scale changes will have on your field.
  2. Educate others — You must share your knowledge with others through writing, speaking and publishing. That can take the form of blogs, articles, books, interviews or podcasts.
  3. Be authentic — It’s not just knowledge in a particular area that makes you a thought leader but your “spin” on it. So sharing your expertise through personal experiences and stories will help others understand and relate to your point of view.
  4. Push the envelope — Take a dissenting view, talk about what others won’t, or share the unspoken truths about your industry that provides more thought provoking insight.
  5. Take a bigger stage — This means television appearances, achieving national awards, and showing up on public platforms like Forbes or Thrive Global.

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.

bell hooks is one of the most significant and influential thought leaders of our time on issues of feminist thought and her critique of popular feminine figures. What impresses me most about her is her commitment to speak the truth in the face of popularity or potential rebuke. She commands you to think deeply on issues of oppression and feminism and the insidious way in which it can influence and impact how you operate in the world. She teaches us all to be good stewards of our craft, to be bold in our opinions, and to challenge the status quo in our industries for greater improvement, while inviting others to do the same.

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

I don’t agree that it’s trite or overused. As I said before, most thought leaders become thought leaders because their ideas resonate with the masses and as a result, the masses ask for more. We’ve had thought leaders in every generation and culture since the beginning of time. It’s just an artifact of our culture.

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

Now that burnout is a legitimate medical diagnosis, according to the International Classification of Diseases, people can actually use their medical coverage to treat burnout, but it’s best to avoid it. Thought leaders are often workaholics so to avoid burn out it’s important to take periodic breaks for relaxation and self-care. You can start by actually taking your weekends off. Take time to connect with friends over dinner, catching a movie with your partner, taking a spa day, or going for a weekend getaway. Other contributors to burnout, that are not talked about enough include: (a) doing work that’s not aligned with your strengths and abilities; (b) working in an environment that’s not compatible with your values; or (c) working without any clear goals, desires or plan for your career causing you to feel unmotivated, uninspired or unfulfilled.

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. 🙂

Well actuallyI’ve started a movement for the high-achieving professional woman at midlife who want to step into a career and life they love called the “Midlife Rebels.” This “movement” is inline with my TEDx Talk “What Did You Leave Behind” in which I discussed how so many of us have sacrificed pieces of ourselves to go after societal ideas of success. So for the women who have climbed the ladder of success only to realize it wasn’t the right one, and now want to do meaningful work that’s aligned with their gifts, strengths and values, this movement encourages and inspires them to confidently and courageously step into their calling. If this sounds like any of your readers they are welcome to join me in our Facebook Group, Midlife Rebel: Women Ready to Ignite Their Calling!

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

Your only limits are the ones you create.” This was something my father always said to me. It inspired me to not look at life though the lens of “can’t,” and instead to let go of fear and embrace all that’s possible for me.

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. 🙂

I’d love to have lunch with Brene’ Brown. I feel an affinity to her as a trained social scientist myself, but also through her research and the people she’s referenced as being influential in her life.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

On Facebook @DrCarolParkerWalsh — https://www.facebook.com/DrCarolParkerWalsh/

or on LinkedIn @parkerwalsh — https://www.linkedin.com/in/parkerwalsh

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

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