Keep it Positive: When the messages you convey are positive, uplifting, and useful, people will keep coming back! I love it when I do seminars and have people come up and tell me they resonated with something I shared, whether it helped them through a hard time or was something they also experienced!
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kerry Wekelo, MBA, is the Chief Operating Officer at Actualize Consulting, a financial services consulting firm, and founder of Zendoway, a company that encourages holistic wellness. In her leadership, Kerry blends her experiences as an executive coach, consultant, award-winning author, mindfulness expert, and entrepreneur. Her book and program Culture Infusion: 9 Principles for Creating and Maintaining a Thriving Organizational Culture is the impetus behind Actualize Consulting being named a Top Company Culture by Entrepreneur Magazine. Kerry has authored multiple children’s books, including her award-winning title If It Does Not Grow, Say No, and her Zendoway Cubes received the Parents’ Picks Award. She has been featured on ABC, NBC, NPR, The New York Times, SHRM, Thrive Global, and Corporate Wellness Magazine.
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 the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. We lived on a farm and had a family business. The business was very specialized and had a niche market, test equipment for cars and productions. It is a lot of ways mirrors Actualize Consulting. My family found something they could do and do well, and ran with it! That really enforced the idea of thought leadership and was something my brother took into account in the founding of Actualize Consulting. When you have a niche market, you truly have the ability to perfect your craft. You learn the ins and outs of your service offerings and can begin to share that experience with others. You are constantly learning as technology and the landscape of the craft changes. For example, my family had over 40 patents — they kept reinventing them and tweaking them over time. That really defined the way we look at what it means to have “expertise” — to not only be knowledgeable but also dynamic.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
I’ve been at Actualize for 14 years, and during that time we have really built a strong brand and reputation. Not only are clients satisfied with our service offerings, but we have also begun sharing our industry knowledge — both our experience in the financial services sector and our internal experience taking our attrition rate from 33% to less than 1% with a culture shift. We speak at conferences, host seminars, and create videos; we are focused on sharing that tenured knowledge and experience to help others. Our sharing was initially focused on making the firm a thought leader. However, because all of our employees are so intelligent and talented, we decided they deserved their own platform to share their expertise. Thought leadership is now infused into our culture, and sharing is something that developed out of our own passion and the passion of our people for what we do.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
While working at Actualize, one of our clients was actually my family’s business! They hired us to help internally and with their infrastructure. Growing up and watching them run their business, to then going home and helping with their… it was pretty surreal and was cool to go “back to my roots.”
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?
One time as a team outing at Actualize, we rented a bus and went to different wineries around Virginia. We had delegated tasks and let other people plan the event, and it was going smoothly… until we showed up at one of the wineries, the one we had planned to eat at, and they didn’t have our reservation! Everyone was so hungry, but because they had had a few glasses of wine, we were able to laugh about it. The winery was nice and found some crackers and cheese for us to snack on to tide us over, and once we got back on the bus, we found someplace to eat on the way home. It was humorous, but at the same time, it was a good lesson that you shouldn’t delegate without double-checking that a person will follow through. You really need to be diligent with event planning!
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?
To me, a thought leader is not only an expert in their respective field but also someone who continuously grows and shares from a genuine place. While a typical leader may lead, they aren’t necessarily sharing their knowledge and experience. And while an influencer may share, it isn’t always authentic and may come from an ulterior motive. Authenticity is key in thought leadership; sharing comes from a place of wanting to give back and educate. It’s real.
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?
To me, becoming a thought leader shouldn’t necessarily be something you need to spend a lot of time and energy on. I think that being a thought leader should come naturally. If you are passionate, willing to share, and want to give back, you essentially will be paving your own path. People know when you aren’t being genuine, so if sharing doesn’t stem from your passion, people will be less likely to listen.
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?
Thought leadership is a great way to establish your brand as an expert; when you are consistent about sharing your experiences, people begin to recognize you in conjunction with your services. For example, redesigning our corporate culture to be more people-focused was a passion project of mine, and in sharing, I hope that people think of me first when they see a need to improve their workplace culture. It’s a more genuine form of marketing. When you are top of mind and sharing your platform, there isn’t much selling needed.
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?
- Stay Active: Whether you’re sharing posts on Instagram, making videos on YouTube, or writing articles, make sure to do it consistently! You can ensure you are on top of everyone’s minds when creating quality content on a regular basis. After a while, you can even get into a cadence with it, and it doesn’t need to be difficult. For example, I will recycle or reuse different material for multiple platforms. I send out a newsletter every Sunday, post to LinkedIn on Monday, and can create material out of what I’ve shared for Instagram and other platforms. For example, I might pick an important takeaway and create a graphic for that quote to share.
- Support and Share Others: Social media platforms aren’t meant to be a one-way flow of communication. It’s a great networking tool and you can learn so much from other people. Whether it’s sharing and liking, or reviewing and doing round up tip articles, there is power in collaboration. Actually, Culture Infusion was one of the case studies mentioned The Conscious Effect: 50 Lessons for Better Organizational Wellbeing by Natasha Wallace. I was even invited to speak at the book launch, which was very exciting. It’s something I never would have been able to do without networking!
- Use multiple formats to convey your message: Not everyone likes to receive information the same way. Try your hand at writing articles, making videos, or taking pictures! I go through phases of each. I joke that I have a “studio” for when I film my videos. I have a set up in my living room and sometimes my kid’s help.
- Keep it Positive: When the messages you convey are positive, uplifting, and useful, people will keep coming back! I love it when I do seminars and have people come up and tell me they resonated with something I shared, whether it helped them through a hard time or was something they also experienced!
- Learning: You can never stop learning — learning new skills, learning from others… use every situation as a lesson. You may be a leader, but it’s impossible to be a complete expert in every field because life is dynamic and ever-changing. At Actualize, we really want to stay on top of the market, so we put a big focus on training. We offer all employees a training budget that they can use to develop new skills or fine-tune old ones.
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.
Brene Brown has done a fantastic job as a thought leader! I love listening to her talks and reading her writings. Not only does she have so many insights on shame, vulnerability, and, well, life — but she also has the data to support it. She speaks from her heart and can prove herself with empirical findings. It just strengthens the message. And having a firm with a bunch of technically focused employees, it’s a great reminder that people love data.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
As long as you are sharing from an authentic place, it shouldn’t matter what term you use. I’m a big believer in intention — if you are genuine and sharing your passion, that’s great! If you have ulterior motives or are just in it to make a profit, then it’s time to reassess if you are really a “thought leader.”
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Do something you enjoy each day. A lot of people will say they “don’t have time” for themselves. But even if it’s just for 5 minutes, it’s something! Focusing on self-care is so important. Actually, when I notice people beginning to seem burnt out, my go-to question is “What are you doing for yourself?” Usually, they notice that they haven’t been taking time for themselves, and it’s like night and day when they finally make that change.
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. 🙂
Gratitude. There is so much to be grateful for if you look around — even in the midst of conflict or struggle. Staying positive and looking for guiding lessons is key to success and happiness. Even just finding one thing each day to be grateful for can really change your outlook.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Brene Brown said, “I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness — it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.” This is so true! Happiness is everywhere. My internal team and I practice weekly gratitude in an email chain: we share inward gratitude (what we are grateful for about ourselves), outward gratitude (someone or something we are grateful for) and any wins we’ve experienced in the past week. It really helps start the week on the right foot and with a fresh mind. Focus on the moments you have and not what happens next — stay present!
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. 🙂
Brene Brown has been such an inspiration to me. Everything she talks about hits the nail on the head. She’s shaped how I lead and how I think, so I’d love to get lunch with her.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kerryelam/
Twitter and Instagram: @kerrywekelo
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.