Personal development mogul Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” For those of us who want to be seen as a leader, it may be tempting to surround ourselves with those who will allow us to take on the alpha role. But, Rohn cautions, this will actually hinder our professional development. He notes, “Don’t join an easy crowd. You won’t grow. Go where the expectations and the demands to perform and achieve are high.”
Becoming a thought leader takes time, dedication, and most importantly, humility. Michael Arrington, who in 2008 was ranked on the TIME 100 list, was arguably one of the most influential figures on the Web. Prior to his success, he was a self-described, “exceptionally average attorney,” who attempted to transition to a career as an entrepreneur – and failed. He started blogging from his home as a way to truly understand the Web start-up community, to learn from those whose success he wanted to emulate.
His shift from attempting a leadership position without experience to becoming a follower of all things technology led to the rise of TechCrunch, which at its peak even had its own verb within the tech community (to be “Crunched” – or reviewed by Arrington – would lead to such an immediate rise in site traffic that servers would become overloaded and your site would inevitably go down).
By surrounding ourselves with those like who we strive to be – either in person through networking functions or digitally through the Web, we will inevitably be put into a follower role. And even for the most Alpha personality, this will be an opportunity for significant personal and professional growth.
Learn from those who are current thought leaders in your field. This can mean studying up on their published works, reading the books they’ve read, and following their social media posts. Many public figures are vocal about the projects or ideas they are working on, and we can gain a wealth of knowledge from observing thought leaders in our fields interacting with each other online.
Engage with thought leaders. Social sites increasingly give us the ability to engage in meaningful dialogue with those we admire, so that not only are we learning from them, but we are contributing to the conversation in a way that may drive our own recognition.
Engrain yourself within your given community. If you want to become an expert in your field, attend local networking functions and socialize with the local thought leaders. Find opportunities or projects where you can work together, and volunteer your time and skillset to advancing their current projects. This will give you a chance to get first-hand exposure to their knowledge, their team, and their direction, while building your own credibility and reputation.
Start your own conversations. All good leaders are also great followers. One of the traits that leaders share is that they surround themselves with people from whom they can learn and continue their own development. In time, we will each have an opportunity to start our own conversations, around a new project or concept, and utilize the networks we’ve built and the knowledge we’ve gained to pave our own paths.