Thought Leadership

Church Leader Zone

pulpit at church in Horgen Switzerland

Horgen, Switzerland

As I looked through the hundred or so articles published on this website, I recognized that some of the blog posts applied to a specific type of thought leader – a church change  leader.

Click here for a document that includes many of those adapted articles that apply to the specific situation of running a church.

Would you like to be a church change leader? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

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Another Peek at the Secret Sauce Recipe: Great Consultant Questions

keyboard with WHY keyI once was a journalist, but I’m OK now! As a journalist I prided myself on practicing the trade without too many compromises or comma faults. One of the established tricks of the trade was the interview heuristic that uses the wh-words ”who, what, where, when, why and how.”

Moving into a career in consulting, I tailored that set of questions to suit my needs in the field of communications. I also adapted my ”Great Consultant Questions” from ones I used as a former high school teacher and university lecturer to elicit better writing from my students, such as the dig-deeper, go-further question ”which means what?”

When advising thought leaders on strategic communications approaches, I often relied on some other tried-and-true questions, like ”what then?” or ”why that?” or ”what’s most important?” or ”what keeps you up at night?”

Are you, as a thought leader, answering questions and questioning answers? Are you asking the right questions of yourself and your team? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

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Trains and Ladders

train passengers are you meeting your goal or reaching your destinationAs usual, the Zurich to Milan train was about a half hour late, which gave me precious few minutes to catch the next local train to Lecco, the university town on Lake Como. I ran through the crowded Milano Centrale station at top speed and dashed down the designated platform in time to pull on the handle of a locked carriage door and another and then another. Someone further down the long platform gestured wildly that I had to run around the train to get into it through doors on the other side. I did.

Jumping onto the first wagon, I asked a passenger inside the door if this train went to Lecco. It didn’t. My excitement and feeling of success for having reached my goal on time dissolved instantly. I managed to catch a train, but it was the wrong train.

The experience reminded me of the well-known business metaphor about the man who is climbing and climbing a ladder that unfortunately is leaning against the wrong wall.

As a thought leader, are you sure of your destination? Or are you running to catch the wrong train? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

Photo credit: sacks08 on Flickr

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Global Water Thought Leaders Meet in Washington, D.C.

speakers at american water summit 2013Thought leadership in the water industry was on full display at the fourth annual American Water Summit, organized by Global Water Intelligence (GWI), from 5-6 November 2013 in Washington, D.C.

Several hundred global water leaders attended sessions with US mayors and other elected leaders, Environmental Protection Agency and US Army leaders, trade association leaders, industry specialists, venture capitalists, private equity analysts, etc.

Highlights of the full water conference can be found in this “Top Tweets” list from the Twitter feed #aws13.

On the night before the conference, a CEO-level roundtable dinner was sponsored by GWI. Christopher Gasson, publisher of GWI, welcomed about three dozen members of the Global Water Leaders Group (GWLG).

William Muhairwe, head of the GWLG and former director of the Uganda water utility, opened with a comparison of operational performance of utilities with that of an airline. Both try for perfect performance and public safety depends on that success.

Among the goals of this particular roundtable dinner were the following:

*to provide a networking opportunity for thought leaders in the industry *to create a body of influence for promoting and communicating the value of water *to debate ways to improve operational performance among utilities

For further information about the Global Water Leaders Group and the findings from its qualitative research, click here.

Are you as a thought leader concerned about communicating positive messages about your operational performance? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!


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Top Tweets from American Water Summit 2013 in Washington, DC

Continue Reading…

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Seeing Opaque Things More Clearly: Avoiding Business Blindspots

illustration chain of people with blindfoldsWith a husband who is legally blind, it’s perhaps not surprising that my attention is often drawn to metaphors that deal with vision.

For example, some say that hindsight is 20/20 vision; others say that there are none so blind as those who will not see. Seeing is believing, especially if that person comes from the ‘Show Me State’ of Missouri. You’ve probably heard about people who dwell in the past and drive looking in their rearview mirrors or those who hurry too fast and tend to outdrive their headlights. As I see it, all these sayings also apply to the business world and to thought leaders.

A good friend of mine, Ben Gilad, has a thriving strategic consultancy based on his book Business Blindspots, which outlines an effective strategic early-warning process model. Blindspots refer to those gaps in business knowledge that we just don’t see, that can blindside us as we adapt to a dynamic environment. Sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know … we’re unable or, even worse, we’re unwilling to see what is clear to others, particularly our competitors.

Blindspots refer to those gaps in business knowledge that we just don’t see, that can blindside us as we adapt to a dynamic environment.
That type of business blindness can have far-reaching negative consequences for a thought leader, a company or an industry. One simple solution is to keep your eyes wide open, constantly scanning the competitive horizon for signals that might easily be overlooked.

Are you wearing metaphorical business blinders that just keep you focused in one forward direction? Are you eyeing all of the competitive opportunities available to you as a thought leader and then taking full advantage of them or do you have business blindspots? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

Illustration credit: via Flickr

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Pointers for Thought Leaders

Qin terracotta warrior

Qin terracotta warrior

This autumn the Historical Museum in Bern, Switzerland, is featuring a special exhibition of the Qin army of terracotta soldiers from 200 B.C. On loan from the site in Xi’an, China – where more than 7000 specimens of battle warriors, cavalry animals and even civic leaders – were many life-size figures that could not fail to impress museum goers.

Expectations were high for this museum goer as I’ve waited about three decades to view the archeological treasure. My hometown Kansas City, Missouri, became a sister city of Xi’an in the 1980s; and as a journalist at the time, I had the opportunity to meet Xi’an dignitaries and hear about the recent find by a farmer in his field.

Finally seeing the terracotta figures in real life did not disappoint at all. No two terracotta figures were alike, but one in particular captured my imagination and seemed to be appropriate to discuss on a thought leadership website.

The 1800-year-old figure of an army commander stood taller than several of the other soldiers and struck a pose that was timeless. His piercing eyes and set jaw showed steely determination to reach his goal. As a leader, he seemed calm and confident that his orders would be obeyed.

Those views were shared by several others standing in front of him and admiring his ageless power. Evidence for those assumptions came simply from the pose of his hands. With one hand supposedly gesturing ‘’settle down’’ and the other hand with one pointing finger, the commander was leading his army in a certain direction in a subtle but unmistakable way.

As a thought leader, are you known for your steely, stony determination to lead in a calm manner? Are even your subtlest gestures sufficient to signal a new direction for your troops – or your industry – to follow? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

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TEDx Zurich 2013 Highlights and Lowlights

Tedx Zurich logoIt was once again time for my annual “intellectual play day” at the 2 October TEDx Zurich conference. Like past TEDx Zurich events I’ve covered in this blog over the years, the day offered a series of talks and performances that aimed to reveal “what’s new” and “what’s next.” But this year it seemed to be more about “what’s now.” Rather than new, it focused on different.

For example, the technologies seemed less like breakthrough ideas and more like different applications or extensions of now-established technologies. The stories told by speakers of overcoming circumstances in life and achieving their dreams, such as hanging on a silk scarf-like rope over a gorge near Bern, were less archetypal and inspiring than they were the non-photo equivalent of “selfies.”

This year it seemed to be more about ‘what’s now.’ Rather than new, it focused on different.
I realize that my comments will preclude my ever being invited back to the event, but I don’ t think I would apply again as the online TED talks website offers the “best of” without having to sit through the “rest of” such talks.

All that being said, I did glean a few tidbits during my intellectual snooze…I mean play…day that could apply to thought leaders in any industry.

Nicolas Perony, who studied animal behavior and made comparisons to human behavior, talked about the principle of simplifying complexity, a key skill for any thought leader. Also he presented a study about South African meercats that may speak to the gender issue in the workplace.

Female meercats are dominant in their so-called “cryptic social units.” They may lead other meercats up to a road; but when they’re ready to cross the road, the female leaders give way and let subordinates cross the road first. Perony said this isn’t done out of courtesy but as a risk-avoidance approach because if she dies, the entire meercat tribe is put at risk.

Risk behaviors were also the focus of Gerd Gigerenzer’s talk about relative risk vs. absolute risk and how the public is often confused or misled about the difference between those types of risk. As an example, he cited a study where people were asked to explain what exactly was meant by a 30% chance of rain and answers varied widely and in some cases hilariously.

Gigerenzer also pointed out examples of deliberate massaging of statistics by the media, such as the report talking about a 100% increase in the risk of thrombosis somewhere in the UK. However, the absolute risk was minute, with a change from 1/7000 to 2/7000.

Risk literacy, he claimed, needs to be a focus of the education system today. It’s important that your own employees are risk literate, too. Similar to the topic discussed on this site in a recent two-part blog (The Risks and Rewards of Full Disclosure Part 1 and Lies, Damn Lies Part 2) there are risks to your brand when stats and risk are wrongly stated or exaggerated, even if unintentionally.

Are you and your team risk literate? Are you aware of all risks to your – and your company’s – brand as a thought leader? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

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Leadership Lessons from the Frog Days of Summer

I decided it was time I wrote a frog blog. All the signs were there. Today I saw a lone frog float drifting around the deserted Bad Allenmoos pool, which was filled with water too cold for all but the hardiest Swiss (and expats).

Frog  shaped floater in poolIt reminded me of an article I read online this morning about the worst ways to leave a job, and they mentioned the embarrassment of being ”frog marched” out the door, perhaps splayed out like that frog float. Googling the term, I found its usage dated back to the late 1800’s, but it seemed to apply more to drunken sailors than senior executives.

chocolate frog coin supporting wildlife charity

Then on my way home, I was approached by two different sets of school children who were using their lunch break to peddle chocolate ”coins” to support a frog and wildlife charity.

So the signs were there. The end of the summer — the frog days of summer — called for a frog blog. The main question was how to relate frogs to thought leadership. Here’s my approach: offer a riddle and a widely recognized tale and a short poem for explanation.

First, the riddle, which I recently read online.

Question: If five frogs are sitting on a lily pad and four decided to jump off, how many frogs are left?
Answer: The answer to this old riddle is five—because deciding is different
from doing.

As a thought leader, you may find that your ”deciding team” is much more committed to making decisions than to implementing them. You must find ways to make your thoughts more actionable decisions. Be sure they know the difference between deciding and doing.

Now for the familiar frog tale. The urban myth persists that if you put a frog in a pot of water and heat it until boiling, the frog will stay in the water and die. But if you throw a frog into boiling water, he will jump out and save its own life.

I’m not sure whether that story is literally true, but I do know that thought leaders can become so acclimated to their comfortable situation that they don’t notice the heat is rising in the industry pot. They may be insulated (or isolated because of their ”exalted position”) from changes that are occurring around them. Becoming accustomed to the gradually changing environment, they slowly perish, or at least their reputations do.

That insulation may come from complacency or even from being surrounded by well-meaning yay-sayers. Perhaps Emily Dickinson said it best in her famous frog-related poem:

 I’m nobody! Who are you?

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish — you know!

How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one’s name the livelong day
To an admiring bog! 

As a thought leader, it’s easy to sit back on your lily pad and just talk to or at the admiring bogs during, for example, a town hall meeting internally or a trade conference or a media interview. Instead you should be engaging your audiences and stakeholders in challenging dialogue, not just making unchallenged proclamations. A thought leader certainly needs thought followers, but not only the admiring ones.

Are you as a thought leader confident enough to jump into the deep end and allow yourself to interact authentically and put your ideas forward for public scrutiny, like a frog being examined under a magnifying glass in biology class? Do you need help just wading in at first and positioning yourself as a thought leader very publicly, like a frog? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

Who Ya Gonna Call? Ghost Writer!

hire a ghost writerIf the only thing holding you back from being a more active thought leader is time to write, Thought Leader Zone can offer you an effective solution.

Maybe you need a ghost writer …or a ghost blogger or a ghost tweeter. Managing your online presence can be challenging while you’re also trying to maintain high visibility as a spokesperson or a speechmaker or author of technical-, trade- or business-related articles.

During peak times, you may need a writing service to keep up the momentum necessary to maintain your virtual and your real presence as a thought leader. Ghost writers can support you with extra pairs of hands and ghost thinkers can help you clarify thought and meaning.

Do you need to multiply the output and the impact of your thought leadership strategy?Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

Photo: Carney Lentz

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