Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Create Your Own Career Breakthrough”
Working with hundreds of mid- to high-level professionals each year, most come for help to grow in their careers but are also looking for strategies to make a bigger impact in ways that matter to them. Emerging leaders, for instance, want to shape the direction of their organizations in positive ways. Others want to focus on more purpose-driven work by pivoting or changing their careers entirely. And others still hope to go out on their own and launch their own enterprises.
Some of these individuals are already using LinkedIn to their full advantage, but most are not. People often don’t recognize the value of sharing their unique ideas, views and expertise on LinkedIn, and thousands are, in fact, “hiding.” I can tell a great deal about a person’s view of themselves and their career by what they are sharing on LinkedIn, and more importantly, what they’re failing to share or highlight on their profiles.
What is “thought leadership” and why will it help our careers to explore and expand our own?
There are many definitions of what a “thought leader” is, but one simple and clear definition that sums it up well, is below, from Business News Daily:
“As a notable expert in a specific company, industry or society, a thought leader offers guidance and insight to those around them. In other words, a thought leader has a positive reputation for helping others with their knowledge and insight.”
Thought leadership, in my view, is more than just spouting our own views to hear ourselves talk. It emerges from deeply honed expertise, from an ongoing, focused commitment to understanding a topic or content area deeply, and from a set of values that involves authenticity, transparency, and supporting others to grow and thrive. It also involves offering content and commentary that can help people think differently and process what is happening in their lives in a thought-provoking, healthy and beneficial way.
But many people I’ve spoken with doubt they have anything important or useful to say. Hundreds of women I’ve worked with believe deep down, “I can’t be a thought leader—I don’t know enough.” And they’re often afraid people will put them down or ridicule them for becoming more visible on LinkedIn (and in their careers generally). I’ve found this to be a big part of the “imposter syndrome” that 75% of executive women experience today.
This idea that we don’t know enough to be helpful to others is also an aspect of what I’ve seen are the 7 most damaging power and confidence gaps that negatively impact a staggering 98% of professional women today.
For instance, according to my latest study, Power Gap #1 (of the 7 gaps) is “Not Recognizing Your Special Talents, Abilities and Accomplishments,” which 63% of professional women face today. When we have this gap—of failing to understand the important and unique things we’ve accomplished and created—we find it very hard to thrive to the highest degree in our work and careers.
How to start sharing your thought leadership on LinkedIn today
Here are 5 simple steps that will get you moving:
1. Follow other thought leaders and share their great content
Start to follow experts and leaders from a wide array of fields and industries who are making a positive difference in ways that inspire you. Read their work regularly, and when an article or post strikes a chord in you, repost it. Tag the expert in your share, and offer a few sentences explaining why this article in particular resonated with you, and what you think about the information they’ve shared. In this way, you are curating great content for your current and new followers, and demonstrating your specific “take” on the issue.
2. Share quote images that offer uplifting messages
Many thought leaders today share designed images that offer a specific quote intended to help us realize, remember or rethink something important, or spur on new actions that will help us grow. Quote images are very popular because they are quick to read and process, memorable, visual, and can be immediately impactful.
Find quotes that inspire you—either from quote websites, or from other people’s sharing on LinkedIn or other social media platforms, or try your hand at writing some yourself. Share these messages with the intention of helping readers in some core way.
Remember, always credit the original author of the quote and tag them if you can. You can use a creative online tool like Canva to help you generate beautiful images that present the quote in an aesthetically compelling way.
3. Develop polls that pose intriguing questions
LinkedIn’s poll feature allows members to create and publish polls that offer important and thought-provoking questions, along with up to four answer options for members to vote on. I’ve found in my own LinkedIn polls that they can generate thousands of responses and the comments provided by voters paint a fascinating picture of the issue presented. It can be a very helpful process for both voters and other readers to learn what the LinkedIn community is feeling and thinking about key questions around life and careers. As an example, a recent poll on retirement shared what thousands of people believe they want to do when they hit “retirement age.”
4. Request recommendations—and offer them—from/to people who have inspired and helped you
Your LinkedIn profile is often the first place people (colleagues, hiring managers, recruiters, etc.) will go to learn more about you professionally. One potent way to have your profile stand out from the competition and highlight you as a thought leader is to obtain—and give—great recommendations and endorsements.
Reach out to 10 professionals you’ve worked with or for, whom you respect, trust and admire, and ask them for a recommendation. And don’t just ask for recommendations—offer them as well.
When I review an individual’s LinkedIn profile, I’m looking for not only what others are saying about them, but also what they’re sharing about their colleagues, employees and leaders. Publishing recommendations of others reveals that you’re generous and giving. You’re not a “taker”—you’re happy to support the growth of others and share their great work and contributions with the larger world.
Here’s some simple language you can start with, to request a recommendation:
Hello! It’s been a long time! I’ve so enjoyed watching your success at ___, and learning about all your latest developments.
At this time, I’m focusing on building my LinkedIn profile, and sharing more thought leadership and I wondered if I may ask you a favor? I so enjoyed working with you, and I was hoping you might be open to sharing a few positive words about the work we did together, and how you experienced me and our collaboration, and any positive outcomes from it?
I’m looking to expand my work and contributions in the content areas of _______, _____, ______ so any comments about those in particular would be so helpful.
I’m so grateful for your help! And I’m happy to do the same for you. I’ve just written a testimonial for you and submitted it for your approval. I hope you like it!
Thank you again for all your help, and let’s catch up soon.”
5. Write articles that share your specific take on key issues
Finally, start the process of writing and posting articles that present your unique perspective and “lens” about the content areas you know best. Writing can be a tremendously powerful process that helps you 1) more clearly hone your ideas and beliefs, and your specific “models for change,” 2) articulate your ideas in ways that move people forward, and 3) stimulate further discussion and thought, that are helpful for the reader in their life and work.
Taking the steps to become a thought leader and sharing your unique perspectives on LinkedIn is an enlivening step that can enrich your career and professional life. But the very first step in this process is actually believing that you have something helpful to say.
Once you can accept that possibility, and do the work to hone your ideas and messages, then it’s time to get out there and share what you know with the aim of helping others on their journey.