To own the space of being deemed a “Thought Leader” means people are following you. Find out why people are following you. What are you willing to take a risk for and stand for? Are you willing to go against the norm? Top thought leaders in the world have a specific lane they follow. They have figured out where their “genius” lies. My lane is that I have not allowed the world to “should” on me. I do not do what others think I “should” do with my speaking career. Therefore I can truly claim that as a global thought leader in this space, it is about truly defining your niche and where your genius lies, then be willing to take a left turn!
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Holly Dowling. Holly is a highly sought after award-winning global keynote speaker and inspirational thought leader. She has addressed hundreds of thousands of Fortune 500 executives around the world in the past 20 years and impacted the hearts and minds of millions in over 100 countries worldwide with her “A Celebration Of You” podcast via iHeart Radio. An expert in strengths-based leadership and corporate women’s empowerment, Holly keynotes and facilitates high-level business engagements for Fortune 500 companies, including Facebook, Wells Fargo, Home Depot and IBM, among others. She is a two-time Stevie Award winner and recipient of The American Riviera Women Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Much of where I have been influences where I am today. I started my career as a cruise director in Tahiti, and gained valuable experience and training in entertaining, connecting, and inspiring diverse audiences. While that experience fueled my love of international travel, I was also able to travel domestically, representing Lee jeans as their national spokesmodel and went on to represent other brands in television and print advertising.
Using my global experiences, I began building a business to train and inspire corporate audiences to achieve higher levels of performance through hands-on and interactive learning experiences. It was a winning combination…or so I thought.
A client of mine convinced me to join their international brokerage firm — and with a bit of hesitation — I decided to take the leap and served as Vice-President. Although
I was successful in achieving Presidents Club in less than half the time of my peers, and enjoying financial rewards and other accolades, I knew this career path was not my calling. Through sheer courage and a desire to honor my passions, I approached them about returning to our prior arrangement where they were my client, allowing me to re-focus on building my own business. They agreed, and the rest is history!
In addition to worldwide speaking engagements, I host a weekly podcast called “A Celebration of You” — with a mission to showcase interesting people from all over the world who are leading their lives with courage and grace, and whose amazing stories provide hope and inspiration. I am also the proud recipient of two Silver Stevie Awards for Women in Business and The American Riviera Women Entrepreneur of the Year Award for 2016.
With over 20 years of leadership and management experiences, I am passionate about inspiring audiences around the world by encouraging people to discover their untapped potential and brilliance, to live the best version of themselves, to serve others, and to tap into each of our own unique journeys.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
I am an authority, because I believe in order to earn and own the platform of being a “Thought Leader” means you have to be willing to take risks and challenge the status quo. So all of my work has been done by breaking the traditional rules. In other words, I have built my speaking business in a very non-traditional way by doing things opposite of the way other thought leaders are doing.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
There are so many! The stories have continued to evolve as I continue to remain positive as to what doors are going to open.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I have never let fear hold me back and have been willing to “fall down” many times in an effort to learn.
When my children were young, I was struggling with being a stay-at-home mom and knowing that I needed to do something further with my life. I saw that Denver, CO was hosting a summit with the eight presidents of the world. And I thought to myself, “What are they doing to make a really good impression to all the media that will be coming?” And in that moment, I called the Mayor of Denver and set an appointment, marched down to the planning committee for the summit and asked what they were doing to make a good impression and they said, “Nothing.” Then I started a business called “Worldwide Etiquette.” I spent endless nights studying and training to prep for this summit, so I could convey this knowledge to area businesses and stores. I trained managers and owners to make the very best first impression for Denver, by training them on different cultures and proper etiquette.
I ended up on CNN news and it catapulted my career! I was asked to be on the African American consulate and thus began my speaking career.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
To own the space of being deemed a “Thought Leader” means people are following you. Find out why people are following you. What are you willing to take a risk for and stand for? Are you willing to go against the norm? Top thought leaders in the world have a specific lane they follow. They have figured out where their “genius” lies.
My lane is that I have not allowed the world to “should” on me. I do not do what others think I “should” do with my speaking career. Therefore I can truly claim that as a global thought leader in this space, it is about truly defining your niche and where your genius lies, then be willing to take a left turn!
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
I don’t think everyone is cut out to be a thought leader. I think the word “thought leader” is becoming a little overused and “vanilla.” I don’t know if this is something you “invest resources in” when it is more about who you are and who you choose to be in this world. It’s about letting go of all the stuff you think you need to accumulate and being crystal clear on who you are and own it.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
My speaking career has taken off because I am not a bestselling author (and I don’t believe you have to be to do this) and I think it is truly about knowing your space and who you stand up for. When people follow you because they believe in you and you have created credibility by believing in yourself and what you stand for, then people want to know more. They want to have your “secret sauce!”
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
1. Being a “Thought Leader” is not about being a “speaker,” I seek to be a true messenger of inspiration. I believe you CANNOT motivate people; people are intrinsically motivated…but you can INSPIRE them to be motivated!
2. I have broken all the rules by creating a business in a non-traditional way; I am not a best-selling author, I do not use an agent or speakers bureau and I deliver engagements with a very different methodology.
3. The #1 reason people are not successful with speaking is that they make it about themselves. The best speakers in the world are the ones who are choosing to serve, be a messenger and provoke thoughts that make a difference in people’s lives. The key to my success is knowing what my lane is and you MUST be an expert at your message.
4. My “thought leader” topics are driven by the mantra “Tell me no, watch me go” (trademarked) which was inspired by a pivotal time period in my life of perseverance and resilience. I have just recently opened up about an abusive marriage I escaped years ago and how subsequent events, which included a diagnosis of my son’s cancer as a toddler and losing my home all in one week, actually formed the mantra “Tell me no, watch me go.” I call that week, “the week that made my soul.”
5. To become an inspirational thought leader, you must come from the fabric of “something” and be authentic with your audience.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
Marcus Buckingham! I am very blessed and fortunate to be a partner with Marcus for almost 14 years. He has been a mentor to me and what that means in every sense of the word.
What impresses me about him and what I have learned is that he has stayed very true and clear to his passion around strengths and he is a researcher and loves data. His passion to research and get underneath what drives individual excellence and corporate culture excellence is top notch. Marcus is always willing to stand up for what he believes in.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
I totally agree! The term “thought leader” has become very vanilla and overused. Too many people are calling themselves “thought leader” and no one is following them.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
You have to have boundaries and find ways to “fill your cup.” Most importantly, it is the way I start my day. My morning ritual is my most sacred and important time of the day. I avoid negativity and toxic people, which sometimes include clients — I call these individuals “emotional vampires.” I have the luxury of being able to say no, so I can stay true to my boundaries and avoid burnout. It doesn’t mean I don’t get “drained out” though!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I am a partner of “Girl Up” but I would like to start “Boy Up.” I raised 3 boys and I don’t think we are doing enough to empower young boys.
I would also love to take my podcast, “A Celebration of You” and make a movement of celebrating people — celebrate ANYONE every day! Let’s start a movement of appreciation!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Tell me no, watch me go” has been my mantra. I learned at a very young age that by making a dream a reality by becoming a cruise director and realizing I can do anything I want. I choose to not live in “Woe is me” but “Wow is me.” I think our darkest, most challenging times can hold the greatest gifts.
“Give without remembering, receive without forgetting.” ~ make that your lifelong quote.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Yes! The book that changed my life, “Free To Be Me” by Marlo Thomas. I would love the opportunity to have lunch or coffee with her more than anything. It would be amazing to have her be a guest on my show! I would love to tell her that her book took me from being a shy overweight bullied little girl to being a girl who believed she could do anything someday.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Holly DDowling/
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.