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How You Can Influence Business Leaders as an Individual

By the end of this week, I will have shocked and changed the minds of more than 150 business leaders. I have been trying to achieve this, one way and another, for some years – but until six months’ ago I did not know how to shape my thoughts or have the tools to influence others.

Now I do.

In this blog I want to share with you what I have learnt, done and achieved in the last few months and share with you ideas as to how you can also influence others.

First, let me explain what I have been worrying about and why I wanted to change minds – then I’ll cover the ‘how to’ of all this.

I have spent my career in, and leading, technology businesses; my specialism is strategy and having a knack for predicting what the future will look like. Sometimes I have been ahead of my time – such as when I told one of the world’s largest telecom providers that there would be one million people walking around with mobile phones in five years. They just didn’t believe me, but of course it not only came true but very, very much faster than I predicted!

For some time now I have worried that companies are automating at a phenomenal rate and no-one at board level is really thinking through what the impact is going to be for their companies or society. There will be huge swathes of jobs wiped out – not just junior jobs but also middle management and professional jobs. To say nothing of the impact on profit structures and the disappearance of some industries as we know them – such as logistics with the rapid arrival of driver-less cars.

So I have been bumbling along, worrying about all this. I had given a few guest speeches which had very good feedback, but I don’t really think achieved the impact I needed.

Then I went on Twitter to see if that would get me there. Victoria Tomlinson, who used to sit on a board with me, spotted my Twitter attempts and started helping me (she sent me the PrimeWomen blogs on Twitter for beginners).  When she realised what I was trying to achieve, she said very briskly ‘you need to become a thought leader’!

So now I am doing this and here are the six steps that have helped me make that leap.

  1. Clarify your thinking

Strangely, this was the hardest part, to condense my thinking into a few key points.  I had too much going on in my head and there was no clear message. Victoria kept pushing me: why was this important; where was the evidence; what did boards need to do; what was stopping them; what should they be doing?

I knew the problems but I hadn’t got to thinking about who had to do what to make things change – or how I could help them.  As much as anything this has helped me position myself in my own head.

  1. Credibility for your arguments

The next step was to create credibility. It is no good going off and speaking to the world at large – they will want to know, who are you and why do you know what you are talking about?

So we have created a personal brand for me. To be honest, at first I felt uncomfortable about a lot of it – despite my sitting on a FTSE board and chairing other boards. Seeing yourself packaged professionally can seem boastful. Which is ridiculous I know!

My ‘brand’ explains succinctly what I have done, gives stories and examples of my career and presents my expertise.  It has formed the basis of my LinkedIn profile, other social media profiles and biographies.

  1. Setting up a blog

How to write a top ranked business blog cover imageCreating a blog has been transformational in my thinking and a critical tool to influence others.

I had a tendency to put down my thoughts in a fairly random way. But then Victoria would say ‘so what’ to all this? What do I want someone to do as a result of reading my blog? It’s all very well saying ‘you haven’t thought about this’ but the blog then helps you to shape what boards should be doing and how to achieve that, recognizing the challenges.

I still write some blogs on topics that are related and just interest me – such as on voting in the current UK election. I posed the thought, will data analysis mean this is the last time we ‘vote’ as we know it?

I post some of these blogs on my LinkedIn profile – the one I wrote in response to Vint Cerf’s comments about how we save photos, was viewed by more than 600 people. LinkedIn has helped me get in touch and start conversations with a number of old and new contacts.

  1. Researching a white paper

We have decided that I will write a white paper to structure my thinking and produce a template for boards as to what they should be doing.

As I already have senior contacts, Victoria suggested I should ask them for a coffee – using this blog, Does your leadership team understand the true impact of intelligent technology to explain what I wanted to discuss?  Directors have been delighted to meet – and the answer to whether they are thinking about the business impact is ‘no’.

One partner at a global professional services firm said yes, they are automating widely – back-office and more.  When I asked who was looking at the impact on the thousands of graduate recruits a year, she just looked at me.  ‘No, we haven’t looked at that’.

  1. Guest speaking with a purpose

I am now feeling confident about how to shape my thinking and offered myself as a guest speaker to an event for some of the UK’s most senior women. And Victoria is also now offering me as a speaker – later this week I will be at Claridge’s speaking to nearly 100 leaders of FTSE businesses.

I thought I had the speech sorted, but when we looked at it from a director’s viewpoint, Victoria did not think the message was going to hit home and she was right. So now we have created a ‘walk through’. I get the audience to shut their eyes and project forward ten years, then walk with me into the street and down the road. As we look at shops without staff, delivery vans without drivers and a medical centre without doctors, the message starts to hit home.

And the feedback from my first talk with this technique was amazing. Yes, I had shocked the directors and most important, they were now thinking about what to do in their businesses.  This had impact.

  1. Media coverage

The next step will be to finish my research and write the white paper. I will then talk to key journalists, with the help of Victoria’s business, Northern Lights – and use social media.

So what has this thought leadership campaign done?

Well in just six months it has already helped me to engage with more than 150 directors and to make a difference.  I now have some rudimentary tools – particularly LinkedIn and the blog – to do this.

The most useful part has been to clear my thinking – especially the what, why and how of it all.   Working with a partner means I know they are watching my back to ensure things look professional and they make a dull speech sparkle and a blog come to life for the reader.

I suspect many of you will have thoughts as to what needs to change in our society – now social media means we have a practical way to do this.  I’d love to know if you are doing any of this and the results you have seen.

 

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