…look to other industries for inspiration. Most people fall into the trap of looking at what others are doing in their own industry and the following suit. To be a thought leader, you need to do things differently. That doesn’t require being innovative or recreating the wheel, however. Look at what other industries are doing and try to figure out how you could apply some of those to your own niche. Start to read books, listen to podcasts, and attend conferences that have nothing to do with your industry or expertise. It will give you all kinds of tried and true strategies that you can then adapt to work for your niche. You’ll then be seen as someone who has great ideas and changing how things are done. This is how I’m able to help women succeed regardless of their background or industry — a solid strategy always translates.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Heather Hubbard.
Heather is a former high-powered attorney at an AmLaw 200 Firm turned Personal and Professional Development Coach. By the time she was 31, Heather was a Partner and manager at one of the largest law firms in the country. After leaving, she combined her 10+ years of corporate experience with a dramatically down-to-earth approach to finding her company, All Rise. From her high-level masterminds to her unique planner system, Heather enables high-achieving women to take their success to the next level. Whether they are attempting to navigate corporate minefields or entrepreneurial endeavors, Heather has helped hundreds of clients reach big goals like doubling their revenue, starting a business, making equity partner, or going on their first unplugged vacation in a decade. Her award-winning weekly podcast, Hustle & Flow, is a must-listen for every ambitious woman wanting to have it all.
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 a small town in Kentucky but always knew that I wanted to move away and do something “big.” During a class exercise in the third grade, I announced that I would be the first woman President. After school, I asked my father what I should do to accomplish that goal and he said, “Most Presidents were lawyers, so you should become one.” I asked for a briefcase for Christmas that year and never looked back — I couldn’t become a lawyer quick enough. I graduated with a double major from the University of Louisville in just three years and then went to Vanderbilt University Law School. I became the first lawyer in my family and practiced intellectual property litigation at one of the largest firms in the country, eventually becoming a partner and practice group leader. After a decade of practicing law, I then took a leap and started my own personal and professional development company to help women rise to the top levels of their respective industries. (If you’re wondering about my political aspirations, those are long gone. After interning for the state legislature in college, I realized I had no desire to enter politics. As I continue to help women rise, I look forward to being a trusted advisor to many women in politics — perhaps the President herself one day!)
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
I’ve always been the kind of person who marched to the beat of a different drum. I naturally see things differently and often think outside the box. By embracing and sharing my unique point of view, I became a partner and manager of an AmLaw 200 firm at the age of 31 and then a leader in the space of professional women’s advancement by the age of 35.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
As an intellectual property attorney, I had the opportunity to work on many disputes related to television, film, and music. That means I’ve been to some pretty cool parties and met a lot of celebrities (some cool, some not so much…). Although I could share all kinds of interesting stories from those encounters, my personal favorite was when Samuel L. Jackson stated on the record that he liked my shoes. 😉
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?
When I was a young lawyer, I was working late trying to get a document filed with the United States Patent & Trademark Office. The website wasn’t working properly, and we were worried we’d miss the deadline. Frantic, I took a chance and called the Office and luckily someone answered. After several minutes of back and forth, I hung up the phone and said to my assistant, “That was a waste. That woman had NO idea what she was talking about.” Then, from out of the speaker we heard, “Ma’am, I’m still here…” Wide-eyed, our jaws dropped. My assistant fell to the floor and crawled out of my office dying laughing while I stood frozen in horror. The most obvious lesson: when you’re on speakerphone, hanging up the receiver doesn’t end the call. The more subtle lesson: be careful with your words — you never know when you might accidentally hit reply all, fails to hang up or say something within earshot of someone you didn’t realize was there.
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 not only an expert on a certain matter but has a desire to shape how that industry or topic moves forward in the future. Thought leaders aren’t defined by the status quo and they often drive change. That’s very different than being a typical leader or influencer. A leader is often a manager — someone who makes decisions and then tries to get others directly below her to execute on those decisions. An influencer is someone who has a lot of clout and connections, but rarely leads the charge when it comes to challenging how we think of doing things differently. They often want to be liked so they go with what’s most popular at any given time.
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?
When you’re a thought leader, you get more lucrative opportunities. When you’ve seen as a cutting-edge expert, you get to work with the most successful people and help craft strategy for your entire industry. If you’re a business owner, this allows you to charge top dollar. If you’re in corporate, this means you’re more likely to get promotions or be heavily recruited for top positions at other companies. It also gives you leverage and influence far beyond your level of experience.
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?
Sure. Here’s an example from my own background. Very early on in my career, I moderated a high-profile panel at the largest intellectual property law conference in the country. The room was filled with hundreds of attorneys and even more, were listening by telephone. Others wondered how I received such an amazing opportunity when I was so young. Why did I get to ask the questions and lead the conversation between the top attorneys involved in the biggest lawsuit at the time? The answer was simple. I pitched the idea — it was big and bold. The organizers knew it would attract a crowd. I certainly didn’t have the experience to be tapped for that opportunity, but because I was willing to put myself out there and push the envelope, they allowed me to do so. When I successfully pulled it off, I was immediately seen as an up and comer and received even more publishing and speaking opportunities. I was recognized by SuperLawyers and Best Lawyers in America in my late 20s (which is very rare). Those opportunities and honors then allowed me to land bigger clients and get lead roles on very large matters.
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.
First, start connecting with other established leaders and thought leaders in your industry. You can never start too early. When I was in law school, I wanted to become an entertainment attorney, which is a very difficult industry to break into. In order to start building connections, I reached out to every entertainment lawyer in Nashville and asked to come by or go to coffee or lunch. I also skipped class and paid to attend their association meetings so I could hear about trending topics and network with them. That allowed me to build relationships and get feedback and ideas from industry leaders on an article I wrote, which resulted in me winning the Entertainment Law Initiative Award. I received my award and presented it to hundreds of top entertainment attorneys at the Waldorf Astoria during Grammy Week. By the time I graduated, most entertainment attorneys knew my face and name.
Second, look to other industries for inspiration. Most people fall into the trap of looking at what others are doing in their own industry and the following suit. To be a thought leader, you need to do things differently. That doesn’t require being innovative or recreating the wheel, however. Look at what other industries are doing and try to figure out how you could apply some of those to your own niche. Start to read books, listen to podcasts, and attend conferences that have nothing to do with your industry or expertise. It will give you all kinds of tried and true strategies that you can then adapt to work for your niche. You’ll then be seen as someone who has great ideas and changing how things are done. This is how I’m able to help women succeed regardless of their background or industry — a solid strategy always translates.
Third, write and speak. Whether you’re putting out a weekly blog or podcast, doing guest interviews, or speaking at conferences and seminars, it’s important to be seen and heard. The key is to talk about things that others aren’t. Look at things in a new way. Encourage others to consider a different perspective. If there’s a new area of a trend, be willing to research it and take a stand as to what should be done. It will require more work and effort on your part, but when you start to write and talk about things that others aren’t, you’ll easily stand out from the crowd. My weekly podcast has made a huge difference in my business.
Fourth, be bold. So often, we try to blend in. We worry we’ll offend someone or lose business. Although you can become a leader with that approach, you’ll never be seen as a thought leader if you don’t have something worth saying. Thought leaders aren’t afraid to share big, bold ideas and take risks. That’s when people will sit up and pay attention. While many may not like what you’re saying, it will build buzz. If you’re not willing to be unpopular with some people, you’ll struggle to make a name for yourself.
Last, be consistent. An occasional outreach, article, or new idea won’t create the momentum required
for you to elevate to the level of being a thought leader. You have to consistently show up and speak up in front of others in your industry. The more consistent you do steps 1–4 above, the faster you’ll be seen as a thought leader in your space.
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.
Shelley Zalis is the founder of the Female Quotient and is a true thought leader on gender equality. She started making moves and shaking things up as she was climbing the corporate ladder and then in running her own company. Having sold her company, she’s now focused on helping bridge the gender gap. From traveling the globe to host pop-ups at leading conferences where women are often overlooked, to help create the #SeeHer GEM™ movement to measure gender equality in advertising, Shelley is at the forefront of changing the conversation around women’s equality. The biggest lesson that I’ve learned from Shelley is that you have to take matters into your own hands. If you don’t like how your industry is doing something, don’t wait for them to change or invite you to the table. Show up, speak up, and change the conversation.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
I definitely think more people are calling themselves thought leaders, but it reminds me of the quote by Margaret Thatcher. “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” There’s no need to update your social media profile or bio to call yourself a thought leader. Others will know when you are by the way you show up.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
My mantra, and the name of my podcast, is Hustle & Flow. I know from experience that all hustle, all the time, can lead to detrimental consequences to your relationships, emotional well-being, and physical health. The best advice that I can give is to learn to say no. As a leader, it’s critical to know the difference between what’s important and what’s a distraction. As you rise, especially as a woman or person of color, you’ll be called on to show up more and more. It’s a great honor but it will completely deplete you. Determine what opportunities and platforms will best help advocate your positions and focus only on those. Decline the rest. We all want to give but if you give freely, you’ll eventually burn out and have nothing left to give at all.
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 wish every child throughout the world had access to 12-step teachings. In my early 30s, I found a support group to help me process the addiction of a loved one. The fundamental tenets and lessons I learned completely transformed my life. For the first time, I learned about boundaries, surrendering what I couldn’t change, mindfulness and meditation, responding instead of reacting, letting go of worry and the tools I needed to cope with any situation. The principles are so simple. I wish I had learned them in kindergarten. Every child deserves to learn these tools as early in life as possible.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is from the Queen herself. Beyoncé famously said, “I don’t like to gamble, but if there’s one thing I’m willing to bet on, it’s myself.” Don’t wait for others to believe in you. Others will project their own fears and insecurities on you, so it’s important to find your strength and courage from within. When I walked away from a lucrative legal career to start my own company, so many of my friends, family, and colleagues thought I was making a huge mistake. I’m so glad I bet on myself and didn’t listen to their well-meaning advice. When you believe in yourself, nothing and no one can stop you.
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. 🙂
This is so hard because there are so many amazing people I’d love to meet. Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Dolly Parton are definitely at the top of my list but if I had to choose just one, it would probably be Sara Blakely. From being a self-made billionaire to sharing her everyday experiences on Instagram (I love watching her lead Spanx events one day and then make free form pancakes for her kids the next), she makes me smile and helps remind me to live a balanced life while going for my dreams.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My handle on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn is @HeatherJoyHubbard
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.