By Andreas Weber, Head of Sensing
The true “thought leaders” are not the people who are the strongest, richest, or most powerful – nor even the ones who shout the loudest. They are the ‘smart people’, the ones who have internalized the art of smart communication and are able to touch others deep inside with the messages they convey.
In an earlier post – “Print und die Krise (Teil 3): Zuhören, lernen, diskutieren, neu denken und handeln” (Print and the crisis (Part 3) – listening, learning, talking, re-thinking and taking action, available in German only) – I published some thoughts about the nature of thought leadership, used Mark Schaefer as an example of how it can work, and offered some advice. Now it’s time to drill down to what really matters.
Sorry – it’s hard work, but it has to be done!
For me, the core question is: How do messages get through to people?
To overcome our communications challenges, it is worthwhile taking time to understand the contemporary principles of thought leadership. It’s all about knowledge transfer and the best possible uptake of knowledge.
The worlds of science and practical management are churning out countless new discoveries. I have sifted out the findings I think are most relevant to our context.
1. First of all, there’s the ‘Factors of well-being involving dimensions and influencing factors’ model, as described by the Israeli-American medical sociologist Aaron Antonovsky. He developed the model of a sense of coherence in the context of salutogenesis. This overarching concept goes beyond medicine alone to embrace other factors and dynamic interactions that help nurture and maintain good health. In short: Nothing good can come of failing to take this to heart. These findings are basically of use to anyone who is genuinely committed to thought leadership.
2. The MIT-based German economist and researcher, Dr. Otto Scharmer developed the multi-award-winning “Theory U”, which describes the stages of awareness, among other things.
Dr. Scharmer differentiates between three stages that are particularly relevant to our context:
- Downloading — passive (by osmosis)
- Seeing — cognitive (begins with active listening)
- Sensing — open (through empathy)
Prompt: The best form of communication is personal and face-to-face, passing through all three of these stages in a single go and fulfilling what is listed under point 3. Our challenge in these times of physical distance and enforced isolation is to make digital communication as personal as possible.
3. Leading German neurobiologist and preeminent neuroscientist Dr. Gerald Hüther, Chairman of the Academy for Developing Potential (Akademie für Potentialentfaltung) makes specific reference to this:
- It’s all about tracking down and implementing future prospects through innovation.
- The be all and end all of this being the training of our own ability to be attentive.
- “We have to like things – and most importantly ourselves, too – as they are. Unconditionally.”
- “Otto Scharmer’s Theory U is also a good way of ensuring we stop seeing and treating other people as objects, and instead meet them as one subject to another.”
- Setting out along this path leads to new experiences. You discover yourself as a subject again (one that likes to be open and outgoing). However, you also discover that other people you encounter also have their own ideas and goals, and are therefore also subjects.
- And when both sides enter into an encounter each aware of their own standing as a subject, they both then discover that this encounter and open discussion can give rise to something neither of them had previously thought possible.
- Such a process can be observed and described from the outside. However, the most decisive aspect of this process does not play out at this visible level of the relationship between the two parties. The decisive aspect occurs inside the two people – invisible to outside observers. They both make a new experience, and this becomes anchored in their minds.
- If this experience is intense enough, it takes hold as a new inner attitude – both toward the self and toward the other person.
- For me, it is the development of this changed inner attitude that matters most. If it isn’t created, it doesn’t matter how much you practice what Scharmer preaches – however long and hard you try, you will never achieve a true encounter on that level.
- Conversely, if you have somehow managed to like and accept yourself again, and therefore no longer worry about opening up to other people, you can enter into a subject-to-subject relationship without needing any instructions on how to do so. You will be able to invite others in, encourage them and inspire them, because not only do you like yourself, you like these others, too, and you find it exciting, enriching and fascinating to discover what potential they have hidden within them, waiting to develop.
Source: Gerald Hüther interview with Daniel Hunziker, October 2019
- Thought leadership is neither a cliché nor a buzzword, but rather is in line with fundamental scientific findings linked to the sense of coherence, the ability to be attentive and ultimately well-being.
- Thought leadership has not come out of the blue. It is based on everything that makes it possible to move people and grab and hold their attention. Rather than reducing others to objects through mass communication and information overload, as has been the norm till now, it uses smart communication to build up and maintain interpersonal relationships on a subject-to-subject level.
- In the current crisis, thought leadership from smart people has to prove itself by making good use of digital communication media. From video chats to social media communications, the seeing and sensing is happening through downloading. Wonderful.
I recommend you watch a video of mine on YouTube, which includes a simple checklist that will help you better understand “The Beauty of Smart Communication”: “ValueCheck! How smart communication should be .. (2006-2014)”