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Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford: “Surrender to what is. Let go of what was. Have faith in what will be”

I think the key to becoming a thought leader is to remain true to who you are, the industry you are serving, and maintaining a passion for what you do. As a thought leader patience is key, recognition may not come right away but if you are passionate about what you do recognition will come. […]

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I think the key to becoming a thought leader is to remain true to who you are, the industry you are serving, and maintaining a passion for what you do. As a thought leader patience is key, recognition may not come right away but if you are passionate about what you do recognition will come. When I started in the field of mental health, I often wrote mental health articles for others. I contributed expert advice to several social media sites for free. I also participated in expert interviews so those that were reaching out to me would view me as an expert in my field.


As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Bates-Duford, CEO and Founder of Family Matters Counseling Group located in Raleigh, NC. She has engaged in extensive work and research on familial relationships, family trauma, and dysfunctions. She is known for her work with traumatic experience and symptom re-emergence. With nearly 20 years in the field of behavioral sciences, she has been instrumental in her work with stabilizing families, helping individuals and families navigate the challenges of mental illness, as well as victims of abuse/ trauma, reprocess the memory of the trauma in a manner that no longer paralyzes nor interferes with daily functioning. She is an accomplished author and speaker covering topics related to mental illness, relationships, empowerment, and living a purposeful life.


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 developed my passion for emotional and mental health in response to my desire to get a better understanding of myself. I always felt in order to truly understand the behaviors, emotions, and responses of others I had to understand myself first. I started my career as a child protection specialist, and I struggled to understand why some families “couldn’t get it together” to retain custody of their children. I realized there were bigger issues at play, such as, mental illness, domestic violence, substance abuse, cognitive challenges, etc., that made it difficult for some families to achieve reunification.

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

In my opinion, a thought leader is someone who, based on their expertise and perspective in industry, offers unique guidance, inspires innovation and influences others. I strive to make a positive influence in the field of mental health with every article I write, a webinar I create, my mentorship of doctoral students, and advocation for better mental health services. My constant research and desire to expand the field and understanding of mental health is my greatest passion. I feel it is my moral responsibility to offer guidance, insight, and be a catalyst for positive social change. Thought leaders are required to maintain a commitment to their field and enhance it whenever possible, I believe I do that.

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

The most interesting thing that happened to me since I started my career would have to be the people that reach out to me and tell me how much they loved my articles. Most of the people that respond to my articles tell me how inspired they were by the articles and how much the articles helped them. The interactive articles I write allows people to both read the articles but ask questions of their own. Some of my readers insisted my advice led them to reach out to others for help and not suffer in silence. Whenever I feel like I want to stop creating content on mental health and relationships I am inspired by another reader to continue.

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 would have to say the most memorable thing that happened to me early in my career would have to be my first presentation on mental health. Prior to the event, I received an outline of some of the key issues that were going to be discussed during the presentation. I prepared for only the items listed on the outline that was issued to presenters. I prepared for the presentation for weeks as it was my first presentation and I wanted to do well. However, when the presentation came to the Q & A section and many of the participants began to ask questions that were not listed on the outline, I panicked. I prepared in a “vacuum”, nothing more than what was listed and nothing less. Although the questions being asked were fairly easy to answer I became so nervous because I didn’t have a pre-planned response that I stood there, frozen until one of my colleagues pitched in to save the presentation.

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 leader is someone that can organize others and teach others the right things to do in leadership positions. Leaders help others to solve problems. To recognize opportunities that others might not be able to see is to be a thought leader. To make decisions is leadership. To be a wise decision-maker is to be a thought leader. I would further define a thought leader as a visionary, someone that has the power to influence. Thought leaders inspire others to become leaders themselves, by each one teaches one.

Though leaders are also different from influencers, as influencers are more visual and attention-seeking. Thought leaders spread their message outward, with the goal of inspiring others whereas influencers invite you in so that you can bear witness to their lives. An influencer is an individual who has the power to affect purchase decisions of others because of his/her authority, knowledge, position or relationship with his/her audience. Thought leaders do not attempt to influence your purchase decision making but attempt to help others generate thoughts and create visions of their own.

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?

The benefits of becoming a thought leader, essentially, is to be viewed as a trusted source of innovative ideas within an industry, an informed voice at the forefront of developments that others can learn from and share ideas with. For me, it would have to be the opportunity to inspire and be inspired by others. I think it is worthwhile to invest in these resources because of the opportunity to create new and innovative material. The world is in constant change and we need to be able to adapt and respond to those changes. Because we change, we must recognize other visionary ideas and methods to support the growth.

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?

Business opportunities can be increased by creating new and innovative ways to enhance our work with clients. Thought leadership can help businesses grow by identifying untapped resources, recognizing areas being neglected, and creating strategies that are creative and visionary rather than those duplicating the things being done in other businesses.

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.

I think the key to becoming a thought leader is to remain true to who you are, the industry you are serving, and maintaining a passion for what you do. As a thought leader patience is key, recognition may not come right away but if you are passionate about what you do recognition will come. When I started in the field of mental health, I often wrote mental health articles for others. I contributed expert advice to several social media sites for free. I also participated in expert interviews so those that were reaching out to me would view me as an expert in my field.

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.

I have a number of people I consider thought leaders such as, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, and Bill Gates to name a few. However, I do feel there is not enough representation involving people of color as thought leaders. I find that very few are being acknowledged or recognized for their contributions to their respective fields. A quick google search will support my feeling regarding the need for more inclusion in this area, allowing recognition of people of color. Currently, maybe two to three persons of color are being viewed as thought leaders while the others that are acknowledged are being acknowledged for historical contributions.

I think the lesson that I have learned from the leaders I mentioned would have to be: stay passionate, consistent, true, and creative.

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

I would say it depends; it depends on how we interpret the term “thought leader”. Often, we use the term leader, influencer, and thought leader synonymously, they are not the same. In my opinion, the only time the word “thought leader” becomes trite is when we use it for everyone, it holds all meaning and no meaning. It is a term that should be used selectively, not a term that is simply used to garner a larger profit. By using it for everyone even those that have not inspired others or was a part of creative advancement and growth we take away the meaning of the words.

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

I would say there are always going to ebbs and flow in creativity, however, being consistent can put you on the path to becoming a successful thought leader. You can avoid burnout by setting time aside for yourself and the things you enjoy. Another tip is to view failure as a necessary process toward success.

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 would like to inspire inclusiveness in the business world. Sometimes we focus entirely on the injustices we can record with our camera, but not the invisible barriers and restrictions in the workplace. We acknowledge overt exclusion but not covert exclusion which allows injustice and inequality to exist and thrive. As long as covert exclusion anchors overt exclusion restrictions and barriers will exist.

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

“Surrender to what is. Let go of what was. Have faith in what will be” — Sonia Ricotti

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 would love to have tea with Michelle Obama

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can find me on Instagram @tarrabd, on twitter @familymattersc1, or on Facebook @

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

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