Written by Joanna Furlong
Executive Communications Strategist & Thought Leadership Coach
Joanna Furlong is an executive communication strategist, thought leadership coach, and writer. She guides executives and entrepreneurs in discovering and owning their voice, message, and values. In today’s fast-paced world, having a compelling and consistent brand is crucial to attract and engage the right audience – it all begins with knowing your thought leadership pillars and confidently sharing your distinct perspective with the world.
Joanna has spent more than 15 years in a variety of marketing and communications roles, driving brand cohesion, sales enablement, executive communications, and content for venture-backed startups and small to medium-sized businesses in diverse industries. Throughout her career, C-suite executives have consistently relied on Joanna to provide candid feedback and transform their ideas into compelling stories for all audiences and purposes, from speeches to communications with boards, venture capitalists, and the media. Joanna previously led marketing and communications for Athena Alliance, a virtual community for the top executive women in business. She is based in San Diego, California.
“I do so many things – I invest, I lead, I’m on a board… but it’s so much that now I don’t even know how to introduce myself.”
“I know I need to be out there, but I’m terrified of how people will react.”
“I have a lot of thoughts on this important topic, but I’m not sure how to get started.”
“I’m in a moment of transition in life and career – how does that change how I show up online?”
Every leader has something to say – and your message deserves to be heard. The senior executives I work with cannot be easily packaged in a box; they have evolved to be bigger than any single role or title. They are leaders, investors, partners, parents, advocates, board members, authors, entrepreneurs, community members. Yet, the more complicated and interesting we become, often, our thought leadership feels all the more challenging to simplify and share with others.
Why thought leadership is critical in the executive realm
You are the only YOU out there – but in the broader world, you’re one of many. You’re one of thousands of marketing leaders. You are one of thousands of startup founders. You’re one of thousands who wants to become a board director – and so on. You know you’re unique – that you have a distinct perspective on the world – but unless you share it, you will remain one of many.
Knowing and cultivating your thought leadership is one of the easiest ways to build “digital rapport” with a broader community and to create your very own niche. It’s a low-barrier strategy to stand out and claim your expertise.
The deeper benefits of thought leadership
If you’re like many senior leaders or C-suite executives, you’re likely struggling with one or several of the scenarios above. There is also a good chance you struggle with finding (making) the time to get your perspective out there or you may even be terrified to share your point of view with the world. However, if you can overcome these challenges, there are greater rewards on the other side beyond discovering your voice.
Cultivating your thought leadership and sharing it with the world goes far beyond great bylines, a well-written speech, or a library of content you can continue to share with your audience. Knowing your core thought leadership pillars – the core topics that are essential to your voice in the world – allows you to:
Own your expertise. Sharing your perspective with the world is a powerful way to take your life’s experiences and share your vast knowledge with others. You’re stepping onto a stage – whether it’s digital, social, or live – and owning your one-and-only-you perspective. Saying it first, saying it your way. Doing so reinforces your leadership.
Improve your confidence. Many executives and rising leaders know they should be “out there” and “speaking more” – but they aren’t sure where to get started. Many leaders privately confess to me that they are scared or fighting a massive wave of imposter syndrome. They freeze. However, all it takes is getting started.
You’ll likely find that through the process of discovering your thought leadership pillars and sharing that you can quickly overcome your fears. After her first article, one leader said to me: “I had no idea that people wanted to hear my point of view. Now I know I need to share more. I need to own my leadership.” The combination of clarity and action changed how she showed up in every interaction in her professional life.
Establish credibility. Like it or not, your digital presence acts as an important signal to prospective customers, investors, and employees. Your presence will either reinforce and build upon their existing view of you, or leave them confused, even doubtful if it’s out of alignment with your brand. Show up digitally in the same way you would want to show up physically – confident, capable, knowing.
When you have a track record of sharing your thought leadership with your community, you’re establishing a digital trail of reputation-building credibility. You’re building a reputation of being the “go to” leader in a specific space.
Build relationships and trust. Prospective employees, partners, and customers want a relationship with humans, not a shiny corporate logo. They may be following you and watching you online, long before they ever engage. They want to know who they may be working with, what makes you tick, your philosophies. When you can share the right stories, you have the opportunity to bring along others with you in your journey, including your company’s journey. You’re creating a relatable, human connection.
Thought leadership is just one element in your personal brand strategy. While it’s exciting to see the changes in how you’re perceived, the inner transformation – knowing who you are and what you stand for – is perhaps the most powerful and long-lasting.