A guide to healing leadership’s battle scars.
6 min read
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As thought leaders, we’ve worked hard to hone our craft. We’ve spent countless hours reading, learning and educating ourselves in order to impart that knowledge to brand-new audiences. We’ve established connections that broaden our spectrum, stretch our limits and, at times, challenge our way of thinking. But becoming an “expert” doesn’t mean we stop learning. To the contrary, this is where we need to step up our game in order to rise to the top. This is what is going to define us as a thought leader in a very crowded field.
Now, what exactly is a thought leader? Strictly speaking, it’s defined as “a recognized authority in a specialized field and whose ideas influence and guide others.” I interviewedauthor and motivational speaker Randy Gage on my podcast, and he defined it as “the kind of person that is having thoughts other people aren’t having.” Those people who are looking to rethink the process of how things get done usually become great thought leaders. As Gage notes, “You can be a thought expert, but not a thought leader.”
Think about it this way: Your tribe determines your vibe. Thought leaders tend to have a loyal following or community that they’ve cultivated and nurtured along the way. That tribe has made it possible to succeed and become someone sought after for critical insights.
Related: The Leadership Challenge at Start-upsS
Say you’re finally a successful thought leader. Now what? Success can be exhilarating, but with that thrill comes the ugly side of success, courtesy of the haters. Success breeds haters. It’s inevitable. They seem to come out of the woodwork and will stop at nothing to rain on your parade by questioning your credentials and expertise. Haters open the floodgates to a slew of questions like, “Why are they doing this?” “Should I worry about what people are saying about me?” “Should I fight back?” and, “Should I ignore them until they go away?” And these are all valid questions. Not every criticism will be valid, however, so there’s no need to address everything that’s thrown at you. It’s very easy to let the haters get you down, but don’t. As a head start, here are five ways to silence them.
1. Get comfortable.
It may sound weird to some, but you have to get comfortable with the fact that you will have haters. People who are envious of your success will try to shut you down every chance they get. Once you’re comfortable with that fact, you can take a page from Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson, who famously said, “Fans don’t boo nobodies.”
Anitagonism only fueled Reggie to be better at his craft, and it should fuel you, too. If people are hating on you, you’re definitely doing something right. Use that momentum to drown out the voices in your head that haters put there (or tried to). Get comfortable in your own skin and forge ahead. Haters be damned.
2. Be empathetic.
Feeling empathy for someone who may have hated on you at some point takes a fortitude not everyone possesses. It’s very easy to dismiss people who have doubted your success and questioned your knowledge. Rise above it. Seeing how people treat others can serve as a lesson for you to avoid those traps in the future, and it might even put you on the right path to mentoring someone who has incredible potential as a thought leader.
Not to mention that demonstrating empathy can be a driving factor in your own path to leadership. A 2017 study by Businessolver revealed that fewer than 50 percent of employees felt their workplace was empathetic, despite the fact that 82 percent of employees viewed empathy as a key way to exert influence in business. Ultimately, possessing knowledge means little if you’re not a decent human being.
3. Criticism can be valid.
As I said before, you don’t have to listen to every critic out there, but consider the messenger. Are they an expert in the field? Do they have the credentials and know-how? Let’s say you’re working on a project that involves a potential hot-button issue. People with opposite points of view will definitely make themselves known. Amidst all that, there might be a few who bring forward a point you hadn’t considered before. Sometimes, the court of public opinion can be very influential, especially on social media.
Listening to different points of view has become a rare talent these days. Here’s my advice: Instead of listening to argue, listen to understand. You don’t have to agree, but who knows? Someone from the “other side” might be able to give you a vital detail you missed while too deep in the weeds. Take the criticism as it was intended — as an opportunity to grow.
4. Mark your territory.
It goes without saying that you should be well-rounded, but you also have to define your area of expertise. For example, I consider myself an expert in scaling businesses, marketing and leadership, but I didn’t get there by sheer luck. It took a lot of successes, and failures, to make me an expert in those areas. In simpler terms, I have marked my territory. There’s an adage in business I like to invoke that basically says: In order to run with the big dogs, you have to learn to pee on the tall grass. What are you doing to mark your territory?
5. Increase your presence … everywhere.
One way to elevate your presence is by getting published or cited in national publications. How does one achieve this? By having, and maintaining, a media presence, both traditional and online; by publishing books, having frequent media and speaking appearances, authoring a white paper or study in your industry or being quoted in the press. Pretty soon, other leaders will be quoting you, helping increase your presence and influence.
So, now that you have your haters, and the attendant battle scars, how will go about silencing and healing them?