Thursday, May 15, 2014

Unleashing Your Inner Thought Leader!

I talk with working people, students and job-seekers all day long, so I hear a mind-boggling number of stories. None of them are boring.
Sometimes people start to tell boring stories, by mistake. They think that since they’re talking about professional topics, they should use corporate zombiespeak language to describe the action. They’ll say “Well, I was instrumental on a cross-functional team that developed a pan-divisional protocol for compliance.” Most of us can listen to that for about thirty seconds before we want to kill ourselves.
The fix is easy. You just have to nudge the storyteller out of Clone Trooper dialect and get him or her to give you the human version. Suddenly the story comes to life. Now the account is gripping – even mythic. So what, it was a business story? It’s an adventure story now. The odds were steep. Things looked dark. Somebody on the team — maybe the team leader – was crazy and out of his depth. When the human side comes out, the story becomes visceral, even to an audience hearing it for the first time.
After twenty-five years listening to people talk about their work, I see the thought leader and sage in everyone I meet. Every sweet-faced new graduate has incredible stories and wisdom to share. Grizzled veterans like me have stories. We all carry around funny, sad, entangled, colorful histories and an astounding amount of learning that we can share. We don’t tell one another at work very often, “Gee, you are really an expert in this topic, and I’m learning so much from you,” but it’s true. We are surrounded on all sides by experts, and we are all experts ourselves.
I was a corporate and startup HR leader forever. I started writing and consulting when the company I worked for (and adored) was sold. I loved being a corporate HR leader, but I desperately needed to process what I had experienced and learned working in organizations. I did that by writing and speaking about employment and the workplace.
Like many pundit-type people, I started speaking through the keyhole called “How To.” I gave a lot of talks to job-seekers, career services folks and and HR leaders. I wrote about how to get a job, how to brand yourself, how to start an HR department from scratch and how to navigate at the top of an organization, the place where vision and strategy meet.
The next part was unexpected. The methodology didn’t stay neatly on the page. The how-to keyhole led directly into a more colorful, compelling and world-expanding view of work and career education than I had known I was gestating in all those columns, E-Books and webinars. That worldview is called Human Workplace.

It’s a simple idea, just the notion that when we bring ourselves to work all the way and make work as lively, fun and human as any other endeavor, everyone benefits. We believe that work should be as human a place as any other spot where humans congregate, from the corner barbershop to the farmer’s market. We talk about and teach that culture is king, that more trust, less fear, and a human voice in everything make a workplace human; and that chipping away at the Godzilla structure of rules is as critical as customer service or product development. It’s that edifice of rules and red tape, after all, that keeps people disconnected from their power source, disaffected, and out of their bodies and right brains at work.
Once that reality hit me — that it’s the Godzilla structure of linear thinking, data worship, rules, hierarchy, fear and workplace ritual we should be dismantling, if we want people to bring their best to work – then my philosophical-editorial path was clear. My job description became simple then; it was to write, speak and teach Human Workplace ideas and methodology all the time, not overlooking the whimsy, color and operatic flourish the reintegration of humanity and the workplace deserve.
While I was an internal HR person, I assumed that any expertise I could claim came from my knowledge of HR topics. That turned out to be totally wrong. It was the sedimentary build-up of understanding how people are at work, how they gel together or don’t, the role of energy and the power of a human voice and perspective in business processes that informed my worldview the most.
There’s an excellent chance it is the same for you. You might think your subject matter expertise in Quality Control is the source of and bedrock for your credibility. I doubt that’s true, QC expert though you may be. What you’ve learned and can teach others goes far beyond the how-to realm, your function, or anything as mundane as Best Practices.
Everyone has a story. Everyone has wisdom to share. Our workmates have incredible stories and learning that cannot be conveyed adequately through the channels that our particle-focused, wave-blind workplaces offer. We need to connect at work on a different level, with our colleagues, our customers, our vendors and our partners, and what better way to get there than to help people find their voices?
We all benefit when we come to work as ourselves, whole and complex, quirky and awesome. There is no better way to build trust, community, innovation and all the good things we want at work than to help people find their authentic voices and use them. You could start a lunchtime writer’s workshop at your job, for instance. Wouldn’t that be fun? Would it help all of you who participate to unleash your inner thought leader, if you did that?
And since you’ve read this far, what is stopping you from finding your voice and opening a channel for your inner thought leader, right now? It’s easy to get started. You don’t have to launch a blog or speak to the Chamber of Commerce. You only need to get enough altitude on your job and your life to think about what’s important to you, and what you’d like to share. There are people in your own organization or neighborhood and people all over the world who crave the community of shared ideas, whether that is manifested in face-to-face events, online community or in some other way.
You have a point of view that no one else has, informed by events and dramas no one else will ever experience. You are a thought leader right now. You could share some of what you know with a larger audience, and if you’re already a content superstar, you could share what you know about reaching that pinnacle.
You don’t need anyone’s permission to tell your story and sing your song. (Unless your company has a social media policy. Check that out. I hate those policies but I like you very much, and don’t want to see anything horrible happen when your blog or your podcast series hits the big time.)

You could start with a journal. Start writing your thoughts on paper, or sharing them with a friend who will pay attention. Record a podcast on your phone. Talk about what you care about. If you don’t like to write, grow your thought leadership flame by curating other people’s content on
I hereby challenge you to unleash your inner thought leader, the person inside you who has a lifetime’s worth of good ideas, observations and collected wisdom to share. We want to hear what your inner thought leader wants to tell us!
The more you share your stories (your big life story and the million little stories inside it) the more your flame will grow. The more you teach what you know, the stronger your thought leadership voice will become.
Exercising your creative side is not just a right we all share. It is a service to the community of people living alongside us and to future people who will come along after we are gone. Don’t you deserve to tell your story – and don’t the rest of us deserve to hear it?

Liz RyanCEO and Founder, Human Workplace

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