Create a network. Without a network (audience) you won’t get your message out. Connecting with other thought leaders is great because if they recognize your content as valuable, they will share it to an even larger audience.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Skyler Ditchfield. Skyler is the Co-Founder and CEO, of GeoLinks.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Skyler! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I first dove into the world of technology at the age of 13 when I set up a bulletin board system (BBS) with my cousin, and now co-founder and CTO Ryan Hauf, to service 200 members of our local community with dial-up Internet. Throughout my childhood, I became increasingly fascinated with long-distance communications and computer networking. Directly after high school, I accepted a Network Engineer II job at the Private Network Management Center (PNMC) of MCI Worldcom in Silicon Valley servicing high-level clients such as JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Quotron, Reuters, and more. Although I was the youngest technician at the maximum-security PNMC, I was quickly promoted to Network Engineer III after exceeding the entire staff in router reprogramming. When the company relocated to the East Coast, I was one of two employees offered a transfer. Ultimately, I declined the offer and returned to Ojai where I proceeded to build a multi-million dollar network business from scratch with $550 in startup capital.
While there were bumps along the road, my path was a natural progression to eventually starting my own ISP, GeoLinks.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
I have been coined a thought leader on how to close the digital divide. Aside from being published on the topic, I have been recruited and elected to speak on the topic across the country, and serve on a variety of national board and associations including, but not limited to, the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, the SHLB (SHLB.org) Advisory Committee, and the Wireless Internet Service Provider Association’s Advisory Board.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The first story that comes to mind happened a few years ago when one of the telecom tower owners we were working with was having major permitting issues with a state agency. In an effort to ward of compliance regulators, the owner released cougars to literally stalk and surround his tower.
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?
I believe a thought leader has relevant and on-going experience in the field that they are discussing. Additionally, they have a forward-thinking with an analytical mind. I believe an influencer talks theory and ideas without necessarily having experience in the relevant area; I find them more motivational then educational. A typical leader leads their own team internally.
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 are huge especially when it comes to speaking engagements. I have been fortunate enough to speak in front of large national and international groups several times a year, and every one of these engagements has led to new connections and business opportunities.
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?
Speaking engagements have led me to being approached by companies and individuals that normally I would not have had the opportunity to meet. Almost every single acquaintance I have met through these events have transitioned into a viable business opportunity. In fact, many of them have led to multi-million dollar contracts.
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.
- You need to find a unique position. Carve out a niche for yourself within your industry. Pick some specific subset area topics that you can really focus on to contribute and produce content. I, for example, often speak on how to close the digital divide.
- Create a network. Without a network (audience) you won’t get your message out. Connecting with other thought leaders is great because if they recognize your content as valuable, they will share it to an even larger audience.
- Don’t be afraid to disrupt — some of your ideas may not be popular or could rub the wrong way, and that’s okay. If you feel you’re right, don’t be afraid to rock the boat.
- Offer yourself as a resource to others seeking information. This may mean donating time etc, but it helps validates you.
- Generate regular content production. Think out of sight out of mind; you need to be constantly producing content to stay relevant.
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.
My partner Tom Krause. Tom regularly writes on the topic of company culture and how it affects safety. He has established himself as a respected thought leader in the space. Through his extensive and diverse experience, Tom has guided me on what motivates people and has helped me to examine my thoughts and actions when it comes to making significant decisions for our company. While he never forces his opinions on me, we almost always end up agreeing on the best path forward.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
The scope should be more exclusive to distinguish those who are just theorizing vs those who have actual experience.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Get Physical — Not with others, but with yourself. When I push myself physically in the gym, for example, I mean truly wear myself down, I am forced to clear my mind and find a way to push through. This is a great reminder of the power of the mind, and that with enough concentration and grit, I am capable of pushing through anything.
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 founded GeoLinks with the mission to close the U.S. Digital Divide. I am determined to bring connectivity to every unconnected Anchor Institution in America over the next 7 years. To accomplish this goal, I am aggressively looking to change the landscape of Internet across America by influencing the reform of broadband funding and spectrum policy on both a state and federal level.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.
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. 🙂
Eckharrt Tolle — his book, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, changed my life.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Twitter: @SkylerJesseD ; @GeoLinks_USA
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.