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Saahil Mehta: 5 Things You Should Do To Become a Thought Leader In Your Industry

An Interview With Abe Alon

Story shaping is where the magic of thought leadership begins. It means delivering your message with relevant stories that will impact your target audience, showing them how they can relate and giving them concrete lessons to adopt a better way of life.

As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Saahil Mehta.

Saahil is an entrepreneur and a passionate mountaineer who has scaled four of the tallest mountains in the world in the last decade. Saahil has built successful businesses across three continents; but even after achieving professional success, he struggled to experience peace, happiness and abundance. Only after he conquered his self-limiting mental, emotional, and physical clutter, he was able to break free and scale his personal summits every day.

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?

I consider myself a global citizen: I have lived in 5 countries across 3 continents, I was also privileged to have loving parents who showered my sister and I with love and unique experiences.

In the spring of 2016, as we were flying out to our forum retreat with the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (a network of 15,000+ business leaders around the world), I asked my fellow members — how can we make this trip life changing? We all agreed on two words: no judgement. Suddenly, it was as if a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I did not have to pretend to be someone I am not. I did not have to be a people pleaser. I could just be me. By the end of the retreat, I felt free and realized I did not want to go back to the man I was. A man who feared judgement. This fear of judgement created clutter across all dimensions of my life.

As I started to remove the clutter, people noticed a positive change in me, my relationships and my business and started to ask what was going on. I started sharing my story with small groups, which ultimately led me to become an international keynote speaker and author. I now lead a purposeful and fulfilling life where I am able to help leaders identify and break free from the clutter in their lives. Finding a network of like-minded peers in the Entrepreneurs’ Organization helped me find my purpose and realize my potential, which ultimately led me to the job of my dreams.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority on the topic of thought leadership?

Over the course of the last five years, I identified the clutter that was weighing me down- be it mind, body, relationships or material goods. All this was essentially clutter that no longer served any function or purpose, and breaking free from it was a transformational experience that I wanted to share with others. Apart from developing myself, I also worked with several leaders to help them with the same issues through speaking, workshops and coaching. This led me to write my book which was published earlier this year, titled “Break Free — A guide to decluttering your life”.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

With my first company, ResNet World, we were struggling with growth and were making losses year after year. We were at a crossroads, and I had to decide whether to pull the cord or not.

I was meditating on the issue when good fortune struck. Shortly after, I got a call from a competitor. He mentioned he was shutting down his business and wanted me to take charge of his hotels. Thinking I could get a good deal, I asked him how much he was willing to accept to sell his contracts, which would almost double the number of hotels we were managing and effectively take us from a loss-making company to a profitable one. He replied saying that he believed in karma and by giving us his contracts, something good would happen to him in the future.

Doubts started to enter my mind: was there a catch? Are liabilities involved with these transactions? How can someone just transfer their contracts with no exchange of funds or otherwise? Nevertheless, we pursued this opportunity — and we continued business thanks to the generosity of one man who assigned his contracts to us and took us from a loss-making company to a profitable one.

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 was practicing breathwork to reduce the stress as I was getting ready to step on stage at the World HRD Congress in Mumbai, India (the largest conference for HR professionals in the world). This was my biggest global event and my nerves were jittery. At least I had my Power Point slides set which would act as my guide in case I messed up the flow of my presentation.

Although not funny at the time, when I look back now it brings laughter as everything that could go wrong, of course did go wrong. During my talk, the computer froze, and I had no access to my slides. Ironic that the one thing outside my mind I depended on stopped working. At least I knew my content well.

The biggest lesson I learned from that day was to rehearse and know your content inside out. You never know when you will get an opportunity to showcase your ideas and in what environment. Always be ready so that you can seize any moment.

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 from a typical leader? How is a thought leader different from an influencer?

A thought leader is an individual who marries their core expertise, their experience and their experiments to develop a brand-new perspective. They use the power of their own life story to help others do things differently.

I believe typical leaders are goal driven and are focused on what’s next for the company’s growth. A thought leader, on the other hand, is idea-driven and focused on their impact beyond the company — at a community, national and even global level.

A thought leader is not worried about building and wielding influence — unlike an influencer — but is driven by their vision and the impact their ideas can have in this world. They are not overly sentimental about their ideas or intellectual property, and are always looking to find like-minded partners who can elevate and amplify their ideas for the desired impact.

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?

Thought leadership is the root of all creation, innovation and invention. Thought leaders are the folks who can plan today for the day after tomorrow, and lead the world towards it! Thought leaders inspire change and show ‘how to’ as well! Change lies at the heart of every thought driven mission. This is why I believe that every leader must explore the art of thought leadership.

Thought leadership helps ordinary leaders elevate their personal brand, impact and legacy. It is not only a powerful leadership differentiator but a transformational tool.

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?

Thought leadership practice or strategy helps entrepreneurs stand out from the competition, and become vocal brand ambassadors of their companies. This in turn helps them boost the visibility of their business and build awareness, influence and loyalty among their consumers. The strategic deployment of thought leadership marketing and communication at the behest of the entrepreneur or the leader certainly helps the business humanize itself, build deeper connections with their target audience, inspire brand trials, build brand trust, and hence leads to higher brand equity and profits in the long run.

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.

The first and the most important one — be self-aware; thought leadership is not for everyone. And that’s ok.

There are two key strategies for thought leadership development.

One is storytelling and the second is story shaping. Storytelling helps leaders to build a solid identity, reputation and credibility to be taken seriously and be viewed as an authority in their industry.

Story shaping is where the magic of thought leadership begins. It means delivering your message with relevant stories that will impact your target audience, showing them how they can relate and giving them concrete lessons to adopt a better way of life.

Three quick strategies I would like to leave the audience with:

  1. Always have a YOUNique perspective on your subject matter: your thought leadership is your unique perspective, born out of your deep expertise, life’s experiments and the defining experiences that have molded you.
  2. As a thought leader, you must focus on the movement you wish to inspire — every great thought leader today has taken their ideas, honed them into a resonating message and transformed that message into a movement.
  3. Finally, the most important strategy for thought leadership communication is to define your target audience with absolute clarity. Your ideas are priceless to your ideal customer/supporter and worthless to the exact opposite demographic. The sooner you have clarity on this distinction, the faster you will be able to scale your ideas with the right demographic thus empowering them to lead better lives.

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?

Dr Marshall Goldsmith. Dr Goldsmith has elevated the concept of leadership coaching with his career and work as the world’s top leadership thinker and coach. His thought leadership has enabled leaders to lead billion-dollar organizations and make history.

His books have helped millions of entrepreneurs across generations be great leaders and better humans. My biggest lesson from Dr Goldsmith’s life and legacy is to make the other person feel like they are the most important person during your time with them. I had the pleasure of spending half a day with Dr. Goldsmith and during that time, he made me feel like his VIP guest. Although I had learned so many lessons from our time together, this was by far the most important one.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

I personally have no qualms with the phrase, in fact, I endorse it. I deeply believe that today, we need more thought leaders than ever before to co-create a more empowered future. As far as the context of thought leadership is concerned, I strongly encourage more and more corporations to help their best talent learn the art and strategy of thinking like a thought leader.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

As a passionate mountaineer, I must be clear on which mountains to climb. It would take me 3,252 years to climb every mountain in the world if I climbed one per day (according to my web search, there are 1,187,049). Even as an immortal, as you can imagine, this would lead to burnout. This is a challenge I see with my coaching clients: they want to climb too many mountains, without recognizing the ones they need to climb.

The other challenge that comes from not specifying your summits is that you will not know when you get to the top. You will continue to spend energy to improve your health, wealth, relationships or other elements even though you may have already reached your objective.

To summarize, have clarity on which summits you wish to scale allows you to be more focused and increase your productivity without burning out.

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. :-)

Stop reacting and start responding. What is the difference you may ask? Like most people, I used to get triggered and that would push me to react to events. On several occasions, that led me to say ‘I wish I didn’t do that’ or ‘I wish I didn’t say that’ which was in essence, regret. To stop reacting, the key is to introduce a step to pause and reflect. Rather than reacting, which in most cases is due to an elevated emotional state, reflect on the situation and respond with a higher level of awareness.

One technique I use when in an elevated emotional state is to do some quick breathwork. In addition, you can reflect on your day each evening and identify the events or moments you are not happy with and see how you could have handled them differently. These techniques will allow for peace on the inside which will ultimately lead to a more peaceful world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The first step in crafting the life you want is to get rid of everything you don’t” — Joshua Becker.

I always thought that life would get better as I added things, whether it was more possessions, more knowledge, more relationships, more likes, more money, more more more. While adding things which serve a function or purpose in life can be of advantage, adding anything else is just clutter. In addition, there were so many things that were no longer serving any function or purpose that I was still holding on to whether it was toxic relationships, things I no longer needed, bad habits, etc.

As a mountaineer, I can tell you with confidence that if you are carrying excess baggage, all it does is slow you down, require more energy and reduce your chances of making it to the summit. So, I started to identify the clutter in all areas in my life, be it mind, body, relationships or physical things and started to break free from them one at a time. The end result was stronger & deeper relationships, more energy each day, greater focus and awareness in all areas of life and more time to pursue my passion and priorities.

Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Ariana Huffington. Not only does she have a large following, but she is also creating a positive impact through Thrive Global and her appearances on various platforms. I would like to have lunch to learn how to amplify your impact.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can find me on www.saahilmehta.com as well as social media sites such as https://www.linkedin.com/in/saahilmehta/, https://www.facebook.com/saahilmehtaofficial https://www.instagram.com/saahilmehtaofficial/.

Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

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Abe Alon

Abe Alon

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Director of Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator