Thought Leadership: Introduction

One of the core skills of a Black Belt or any continuous improvement/performance improvement professional is what I term “thought leadership” or the ability to envision and communicate thoughts and ideas that either provides breakthrough insight or helps clarify a mass of confusing, tangled issues, or does both. Leadership through ideas and the effective articulation of these ideas, whether verbally and/or through the written word is kind of leadership distinctly different from leadership derived from hierarchical authority (I follow you because I am subordinate to you) or values leadership (I follow you because I believe in what you represent in terms of values). These modes of leadership can co-exist: a given leader might generate followership from a combination of these factors.

In continuous improvement/problem solving terms, thought leadership is the ability to structure problems effectively (sometimes properly defining a problem takes you 90% of the way to finding a good solution), laying out an approach to generating one or more solutions, and then effectively articulating the recommended action to the decision maker(s) in such a way that they are able to clearly grasp the essentials of the problem, alternatives and recommendation so as to facilitate good decision-making. Thought leadership enhances the influence of the individual, and because the CI professional/Black Belt is usually not in a position of formal authority, thought leadership is a critical skill for a Black Belt to make things happen.

In the series of articles to follow, we’ll explore the nature of thought leadership and the ways to further develop your competence in this area.

Elements of Thought Leadership

I propose the following elements for our exploration of thought leadership:

  • Conceptualizing (right brain)
    • Holistic, systemic thinking including 2nd and 3rd order effects and feedback loops
    • Using analogies
    • Imagining alternatives
  • Structuring (left brain)
    • Logical reasoning and boundary conditions/extremes
    • MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) thinking
    • “Pyramidal” construction of facts and arguments
  • Articulating
    • Crisp speaking skills
    • Effective use of the written word
    • Effective use of table, graphs, and other visuals

In the following articles in this series we’ll explore the nature of these elements and ways to improve your own thought leadership skills.

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