Listen — Thought leadership is always contextual; it’s relevant to a specific discipline or area of expertise. In order to develop and articulate ideas that are leading the field, you need to listen to what others are saying. There’s an expression: “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.” You have to listen in order to lead.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jay Palter.
Jay is a social business strategist and personal branding expert, specializing in B2B social networking and influencer engagement strategies for technology professionals, business executives, investors, owners, consultants and firms.
Jay strongly advocates that business leaders need to develop their personal brand and thought leadership as a complement to corporate brands in social media.
His business experience spans almost three decades, during which he has held a variety of leadership positions in financial services, software development and marketing.
Jay is a sought-after public speaker on social engagement strategies at industry conferences and events and is a columnist in a variety of publications.
“For the past five years, Jay Palter has created one of the most anticipated and respected lists of influencers in the banking industry.”
~ Jim Marous, Co-Publisher, The Financial Brand
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?
Depends how far back you want to go. Let’s start with the philosophy degree I got about 30 years ago. As a young man, I was a interested in the meaning of life and the universe and studying philosophy helped refine my critical thinking skills, but left me searching for a more pragmatic way to apply them. So, upon graduating, I pivoted to environmental activism and spent the next seven years working for a global environmental organization on issues ranging from toxic pollution to global warming.
During my activist years, I developed two skill sets that would inform my work for years to come. First, I learned how to leverage “guerilla marketing” techniques to obtain maximum exposure for a cause, product or company. Second, I gained valuable experience using early Internet technologies to coordinate global public relations campaigns.
A fascination with marketing tech has driven my career since then. I taught myself HTML and started a website development business. When my web business was acquired by a growing loyalty program provider, I stayed on to manage product design and large implementations.
Mid-career, I pivoted to become an insurance advisor which immersed me within the broader financial services and wealth advice ecosystem. Then, about 10 years ago, a cross-country relocation for my wife’s work created an opportunity for me to stay home and take care of my young children for a couple of years. Once they kids entered school full time, I started a social media consultancy practice specializing in personal branding and thought leadership development.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
Working in this space over the past decade, I have developed and refined a set of strategies and tactics that I’ve used to build my clients’ visibility online as thought leaders. I know these strategies and tactics work because I have also successfully applied them myself in building my own visibility and reputation as a leader in this increasingly vital area.
There are three principles that are critical to success in building thought leadership. First, business is inherently social. People choose to do business with other people — typically, people they know, like and trust. Second, thought leadership is not something you can (solely) claim on your own — others have to confer it upon you. And finally, thought leaders are individuals, not businesses or organizations — though the reputation of entities can benefit from having thought leaders among their ranks.
My view is that many business leaders are leaving value on the table by not developing and leveraging their personal brand professionally. So, my work has focused on helping business leaders, especially in B2B settings, to develop their thought leadership, increase their visibility and build productive working relationships with other influencers and thought leaders in their market space.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The experience of being a stay-at-home parent has been one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had in my career.
On the one hand, it was a personal experience — a chance to play a more involved role in my kids’ lives. In any family, there is always a parent to whom parenting and homemaking duties default and I call that a “primary parent”. We’re the ones that facilitate kids’ busy lives — getting to and from school, doctors and dentists, extracurricular and social activities. We often also shop and cook and make sure the home we live in is clean and serviced. It’s a ton of work, but the rewards and benefits are many.
While lots of families share duties, it’s still often the case that women carry the burden of being the primary parent in many families. I believe men need to step up and take on this role of primary parent more often. It’s a very practical way to rebalance gender roles and support women’s equality in professional work settings. And there are huge benefits for relationships, families and kids too when dads are more active parents.
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’ve made many mistakes throughout my life and career, but few of them strike me as that funny. I truly believe and regularly advocate that making mistakes and learning from them is the key to success. Yet I hate making mistakes myself. Perhaps that’s ironic, but it’s not particularly funny.
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 steps forward to not only lead through their actions, but also through their ideas. Thought leaders share their vision and insights in order to help others succeed — in their businesses, their industries and society at large.
There are a lot of terms that have become more fashionable in the last decade due to social media and ‘thought leader’ is among them. An influencer, particularly in a social media setting, is someone who perhaps spends more time sharing insightful content than creating it. The “influence” exerted by an online influencer is perhaps more akin to something like network amplification or reach.
Whereas a thought leader may or may not be the most active social media user, their writing and insights still garner attention and interest.
There are lots of ways to be a thought leader — you don’t have to write a dozen books or be the keynote speaker at the biggest events. By sharing ideas and insights within your community of interest you can cultivate thought leadership in ways that can help your career and business.
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?
This is an easy question, I think.
In a business setting, people are drawn to do business with people they perceive as experts in their field. Thought leadership is a good way to build your visibility as an industry expert and this will enhance your ability to attract business and succeed.
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?
I’ve helped individuals cultivate their thought leadership in the form of creating digital assets — articles, podcasts, videos, etc. — that people can share with others. These assets help you gain visibility in a crowded market space.
These thought leadership assets also create social proof. When people are making decisions about who to do business with they take into consideration someone’s position in the industry. If they see you on stage at industry events or see you referenced or quoted in discussions about, for instance, industry trends, this makes them feel more comfortable that they’re doing business with a leader who really knows their space.
I’ve helped individuals cultivate their thought leadership which has contributed to:
- Speaking opportunities at industry events;
- Recognition as top thought leaders/influencers within an industry; and
- Partnership opportunities with compatible businesses.
When you’re visible as a thought leader in your market space business opportunities can find you more easily.
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.
Over the past decade, I’ve focused on building thought leadership and influence online and helping others do the same. Digital social networks are the ideal platform for building visibility as a thought leader in the 2020s. The following five strategies should guide your social networking activities:
- Listen — Thought leadership is always contextual; it’s relevant to a specific discipline or area of expertise. In order to develop and articulate ideas that are leading the field, you need to listen to what others are saying. There’s an expression: “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.” You have to listen in order to lead.
- Curate — Accruing thought leadership is not only a function of what you create or write. A thought leader who is listening well to conversations within their target area will come across many others whose ideas resonate. Identifying, selecting and bringing these ideas to the fore is also an important way to demonstrate your thought leadership in the space.
- Share — We live in an age of social networks and sharing is an important and demonstrative act of your thought leadership. The best content you find should be actively shared within a social network that you cultivate. Sharing not only your own ideas, but the ideas of others filtered through your own lens, consolidates your thought leadership among a group of followers.
- Create — Of course, you need to articulate your own ideas and vision in order to build thought leadership. Writing those ideas down — in articles, blog posts, or a book — is an essential activity for the thought leader. Over time, a thought leader creates a body of work that, as a whole, comes to represent their thought leadership.
- Engage — The very idea of thought leadership presupposes an engaged community that cares about your ideas. The successful thought leader needs to cultivate these relationships within a community of interest. Seek out others who share your views and get to know them. Learn from them. No two people will have identical thoughts, so the differences are just as important as the similarities in choosing and engaging a community and refining your ideas.
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.
Jim Marous is co-publisher of the Financial Brand and owner of Digital Banking Report. If you work in banking or financial services, you’ve probably heard of him. If you don’t, you probably haven’t.
Jim has implemented all five strategies that I describe above. He listens and engages with his audience. He curates and frequently shares great content about fintech and digital banking on his social media accounts. And he’s a prolific writer, publishing as thousands of words of original content on the Financial Brand website.
He has built his personal brand and visibility as a thought leader in banking innovation and has appeared on conference stages around the world.
The lessons we can learn from Jim Marous about building thought leadership are simple: persistence and hard work pays off.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
I do not disagree, but you will not find complete agreement on any term. “Influencer” has its supporters and detractors too. Regardless of the term we use, the benefits of being more visible as a leader with an insightful vision for the market space in which you operate are hard to ignore.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Find and nurture an online community of interest who share your passion for similar topics. Such a community provides both inspiration for your ideas as well as a sounding board.
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. 🙂
Climate change is a challenge to which we must rise as communities, cities, countries — across the planet. I believe we have the knowledge and innovative spirit to solve any technical challenges that stand in our way. But I am less optimistic that we can overcome our human tendencies to think short term and react, instead of think longer term and take preventive actions.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”
This quote is often attributed to Oscar Wilde, but that attribution is difficult to confirm. Nevertheless, the idea embodied in this quote is pivotal to any discussion of thought leadership. And that idea is this: Everyone has a unique perspective. Everyone sees the world through the lens of their unique experiences and knowledge.
This is crucial in this discussion because it suggests that everyone potentially has a unique and insightful perspective on a subject and is capable of thought leadership.
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? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’d love to meet Bill Gates. I was never a big fan of Microsoft products (the “blue screen of death” and the Internet Explorer web browser scarred me for life), but he’s an incredibly smart and well-read man who has dedicated himself to making the world better in so many ways.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.