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Formalizing Thought Leadership within an Organization | Stacey Flax and Carlos Williams

Formalizing Thought Leadership within an Organization | Stacey Flax and Carlos Williams

Building organizational thought leadership from the ground up.

An interview with Stacey Flax and Carlos Williams on how they created sustainable thought leadership for their organization.

Many organizations want to formalize their thought leadership efforts and take it to the next level.
But how do you turn a “casual thought leadership presence” into something more?

Today, we discuss ways to harness a “casual” message and turn it into powerful thought leadership that you can take to scale.

Our guests are Stacey Flax, Thought Leadership Communication Manager and Carlos Williams, Applications Development Manager from Hach, an organization that focuses on water analysis.

Stacey and Carlos share how people at Hach had been doing thought leadership on their own, before Hach chose to formalize it and amplify the expertise the organization had to offer. Carlos explains how part of the job of a thought leader is to convey your message in relatable terms but also somehow make it fun, through story or anecdotes.

Stacey further explains the need to take a step back and think about your message. Who are you trying to reach? What’s the core essence of your insights? They discuss how to convey your thought leadership message in different ways, using different media forms and different techniques.

We also learn how Stacey aided in putting the formal structure in place, getting a baseline of subject matter experts, cataloging all of the previously produced content, and gaining further support from the leadership by being able to show the impact thought leadership was having.

As a bonus, we take a look back at John Snow’s discover of cholera in the water in the 1920s –  perhaps some of the first thought leadership on the topic of water analysis –  and how those insights still affect us today.

Three Key Takeaways:
  • When formalizing thought leadership within an organization, start by discovering the experts in your organization, and curate the material they have already produced into a useable catalog.
  • When creating thought leadership for technical or niche topics, it is important to use storytelling to spice up the content and make it somehow relatable.
  • Ensure any information you distribute in your thought leadership aligns with the organization’s strategy.

If you need a strategy to bring your thought leadership to market, Thought Leadership Leverage can assist you! Contact us for more information. In addition, we can help you implement marketing, research, and sales. Let us help you so you can devote yourself to what you do best.



Bill Sherman Many organizations have informal thought leadership programs where experts speak and write. Well, what happens when you want to take that effort to the next level and establish a formal thought leadership program? What is the transition look like? What needs to happen and how do you create impact? Today, I talk with Stacy Flax, thought leadership communications manager, and Carlos Williams, an application development manager from HOK, an organization that focuses on water analysis.

Bill Sherman In today’s episode, we talk about questions such as How do you make a technically complex subject engaging? We explore telling the story to different audiences, and we even touch on a bit of thought leadership history by going back to John Snow’s detection of cholera in the Broad Street water pump in 19th century London, Water safety and thought leadership had gone together for a long time. And we talk about making today’s challenges with water safety visible to target audiences.

Bill Sherman I’m Bill Sherman and you’re listening to Leveraging Thought Leadership. Ready? Let’s begin. Welcome to the show, Stacy and Carlos.

Stacy Flax Thank you.

Carlos Williams Thank you.

Stacy Flax Glad to be here.

Bill Sherman So today, I want to explore a number of things with you. We’ve been having some good conversations over the past couple of months. And one of the things that I think a lot of organizations are going through now is the realization that, yeah, we’ve had thought leadership before, but this needs to be something formal and we need to take it to the next level. And we’ve been talking about this journey. I’d like to start with you, Stacy, a little bit about that. What’s it been like ad hoc?

Stacy Flax Sure. So I have been with the organization a little over a year and a half now. And although we have always been fortunate enough to have subject matter, experts who are considered thought leaders in their respective fields is not a thought leadership program. But it wasn’t a formalized thought leadership program. So they decided to take the next step in establishing that structured program, hired a position to lead it, which is me. And really we aim to further harness and amplify the knowledge and expertise that is already within our organization so that we can aspire and continue to be thought leaders in the industry. So, you know, it was something that was always there. But right now we’re just adding those elements and the glue that pulls it all together and formalizes it.

Bill Sherman So we’ll dig deeper on that. But I want to turn to Carlos here for a moment. So, Carlos, you’ve been that expert who has also been on a thought leadership journey. What has it been like from your perspective?

Carlos Williams It’s a it’s a good question. You know, I think, you know, the way I think about thought leadership for a long time, I think we as Stacey said, I think we did it informally like a lot of companies did. And it could be, you know, in thinking about this topic as a whole, I mean, it’s it’s about communicating something to someone in a way that’s impactful to them. Right. And so I think it’s been really interesting in in sort of formalizing this from just a because I’m somebody that has gone out and taught classes for people and spoken at conferences and spoken in different settings about different things that affect our organization, which is focused on water analysis and in other types of analysis, but, but mainly water analysis. And so it’s been it’s been a cool journey to try to take what I’ve done in formula and what I’ve tried to do. And the people that I admire that have tried to do to turn it from something that we just do in front of people to something that we’ve kind of created a little more formal structure to.

Bill Sherman So if we go into the before times. Carlos, when you were doing this, as you said informally, were you talk about speaking and teaching classes, writing. Was it something that you were doing above and beyond your day job, or how were you fitting it in?

Carlos Williams So it was part of my day job in a manner of speaking. So it was there was stuff I had done prior to working at HOK also. But if you put it in context with what we do right, so a lot of times I get up in front of a group of people during the pandemic, of course it was it was it was in teams calls and zoom calls. Right. But either way, talking about water analysis and I’m a chemist, so I’m kind of a self-identified chemistry nerd. But I can tell you, especially when I’m in front of a group of people and I say, Well, we’re going to talk about water chemistry. The response is somewhere between for most people, unless there’s a few water chemistry nerds in the audience, the response is somewhere between anxiety inducing or just a substantial yawn. And so part of part of what my job has been to do is to is to say, hey, you know what? I get it. A lot of people, you know, freaked out about chemistry when they were in school or a lot of people just think it’s boring. But part of my job in in order to convey whatever message I’m trying to send is not only to put it in relatable terms, but also, you know, my feeling is to try to make it somehow fun, right? And to tell a story that’s entertaining and connects with as many people as possible.

Bill Sherman Well, and you mention something here that I think is worth calling out, right? So if you’re at a water analysis conference and you’re speaking there, you can speak at a different level and differences of sophistication, you’re among your people, right? And they’re going to lean in rather than go, did I walk into the wrong room in the wrong presentation?

Carlos Williams All right.

Bill Sherman So talk to me, Stacey, about who your target audience is and how you’re trying to reach, because there’s quite the range between the very, very technical and then, you know, the end line consumer of water. Right.

Stacy Flax Absolutely. So as far as the target audience, it really depends on what message we’re trying to get across. So taking a step back, there are three ish critical elements I think that that you have to have in place to ensure the success of the program. So it’s the right people like Carlos. And once you have the right people in place, then you’re going to say, okay, so what is the ultimate goal here? It’s what are what is our message that we need to get across? And once we have the message defined, then we begin to look at, okay, so what’s the right place, our audience and what’s the right time to distribute that message? So when you ask your target audiences, it depends on the message.

Bill Sherman Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. On that. But where are you focusing effort?

Stacy Flax So the effort right now is really on the individuals in the water industry who are looking for guidance. Right. So a lot of our focus is on our customers. So we go out, we get as much bossy or voice of customers as we can to better understand where their challenges and needs are. And then we try to distribute that information in a way that we understand it, maybe understand it isn’t the right word in a way that we can outline what our messaging needs to be so that we can reach those customers. So I would say in general, it’s the water industry, I think.

Bill Sherman And does that mean like the local water district or what do you mean here?

Stacy Flax And B, so if you get down to the more granular level our customers, which it can be the local municipalities, water, wastewater industries. Another group that I have really been working on building relationships with are the professional organizations. So getting a seat at the right table, having those conversations with people who maybe have more of a straight line with some of our audiences, like the regular let’s just throw it out that the regulatory side so we can better understand the regulations that are coming in the future so that we as thought leaders can be prepared and have that guidance for our customers to help them navigate those waters.

Bill Sherman So, Carlos, when you’re out talking, for example, and presenting. What is it? Because my sense is you’re probably repeating similar information to different audiences. How do you keep it fresh for yourself?

Carlos Williams So, I mean, one of my own mantras has always been and it’s and it’s half joking, but it’s half serious. It’s like it’s got to be fun for me to write. And so, so so I absolutely agree.

Bill Sherman Because if you’re asleep, your audience is going to go there.

Carlos Williams Yeah. Yeah, totally. I mean, you can’t get up and just phone it in. Right. So I mean, I mean, you can and people do it, but, but it’s not, you know, it’s not useful to everybody, you know, and it’s not. So a lot of what I do is to try to come up with different analogies or different stories or different things that are fun. You know, I, I, I personally like, you know, there are times where it’s because sometimes I’ll do these things where I stand up and I do a demonstration of something. Right. Here’s how you calibrate a probe. Here’s how you calibrate something else. Here’s how you do this test or whatever. And so and I’ve done it long enough. Sometimes things will just occur to me, like scenes from movies or something like that. It’ll be like, this is just like, you know, and I just throw something out there, you know, or, and, and, you know, if I can, if I can just throw some of that in there, it’s great for everybody else because it takes them outside of, of this sort of dry or more technical kind of talk. And then you can see it when you’re standing in front of people, which is why it’s so great to be up there. And, you know, another thing that really helps just to kind of speak to the question you were talking about with Stacie before, about talking at different levels. You know, that’s a huge part of thought leadership. And Stacy was talking about the thought leadership program sort of writ large to take it down to something small, but to still talk about the same theme. I mean, I I’ve had friends who are teachers, you know, for they’re like middle school and high school classes on on like chemistry or water chemistry or ecology or, you know, how chemistry impacts our world. I’ve come in and talk with them for an hour or taking them out to like a local lake and been like, Look, here’s a portable meter. And you go out and you can measure all these different things. And, you know, I’ve even had people say, Hey, you know, what do college students or even there was a college professor that came to one of my classes and he was he was like, you know, this is great. Like what you do. This is something that somebody in chemistry could do and they don’t necessarily have to go into research if they don’t want to. So it’s and of course, to get back to that original idea that you asked about, Bill was that I can’t just like at the conference that you that you mentioned I could go in and talk and nerd out on water chemistry with all the other water nerds like myself. But I can’t do that with a group of middle schoolers, you know?

Bill Sherman Right.

Carlos Williams So, so instead, you know, I might do a demo or something changes colors or, you know, watch something, watch numbers like go up or down or dive bomb or whatever, but be enabled. The people that I have admired most in this type of milieu, if you want to think of it that way of thought leadership are the people that can do that right. They can fully communicate from middle schoolers all the way up to people that, you know, that are the leaders of the of the industry. And so some of that also, you know, kind of the challenge of that makes it interesting for me, too.

Bill Sherman So one of the things that I think is there is if you approach the topic with a bit of joy and wonder and curiosity, and then you can sort of dial in and look for them to mirror. Right. You’re asking the what if question at a level of appropriateness, because you talked about not only middle schoolers through folks in the water industry all the way up to your advanced chemist. Right. But what gets them excited and what gets that? Wow, I never thought of something that way. And you can’t have the conversation with a peer the same way you would with a fifth grader, but you can evoke a great energetic conversation and produce that. Yeah. Did The moment flew by, I was listening and learning about water for an hour or 45 minutes, and it felt like five, right?

Carlos Williams Right, Right. And I mean, I have a great example of that just recently, you know, because I was in a room, I was in a room of relatively new engineers, smart people responsible for designing different kinds of plants in different industries. But they were they were new and they had done a lot of different things in their world. But, for example, turbidity is something that that is important in the water industry, right? This is basic.

Bill Sherman Turbidity is.

Carlos Williams Turbidity is the sort of that if you were just to hold a glass up to the light, think of it this way. If you were to hold a glass of water up to the light, one of them was really cloudy and one of them was really clear. Which one would you drink.

Bill Sherman Right. The clear one. Yeah.

Carlos Williams Right, Right. And most of us, we do this intuitively on some level whenever we drink something, right? If I take water out of a tap and it’s all cloudy, I’m not going to want to drink it. I don’t know what it is. I don’t have to analyze it to be like, Yeah, I don’t. I’m not so sure about what’s in that. So I was talking to these in these engineers about that, and they, they were not familiar. They done a lot of other things, but they were not familiar with this topic of turbidity. So I could have been like, yeah, you know, the light shines through, 90 degree detector scatters, whatever, but instead you get the way I convey is they look. Has anybody ever seen your cat laying in a sunbeam as the sun shines through the window? Right. The cat loves this sunbeam because it’s warm. Do you ever notice when that sunbeam comes into the window, you can see particles of dust. They’re just suspended in the air. And you ever notice you come out of that sunbeam, You don’t see any particles suspended in the air. That stability, right, that in in a liquid matrix. Right. And so. And when I describe things in that way, you could see the light going on in people’s eyes. You could see the understanding because that that experience of the dust particles floating around in the air, the cat in the Sunbeam, everybody has seen that. So you can see people smile and be like, Oh, oh, I got it. Okay, so we’re just shining a light into a sample, scatters light over to a detector that tells us turbidity in the in this example, with the dust in the light, our eyes are the detector. And that’s right. We can see it. Right. So in that that sort of thing, because again, the people that I most admire that do this, that I really who can convey things to me and impactful to me and speak to me and resonate with me, they do that right. They’ll tell that story. And that’s what I try to do.

Bill Sherman That’s a great example. And I’ve been thinking about in this conversation how the topic of clean water. There are very few pieces of thought leadership that are deeply relevant to all 8 billion people on the world. Clean water is one of them, right? But at the same time, most of us don’t know the technical pieces. You know, we turn on a tap or we’re worried about, hey, is the water I’m drinking safe? Right. But we don’t have the language for it. So, Stacy, I want to turn to you. And this comes back to how do you start building formal structure around what’s been going on? Informal, right. So you’ve got someone like Carlos who has the energy and the passion already. And I’m assuming that within HOK there are other people like Carlos. So what has been this process of creating structure around informal? What’s your experience been like?

Stacy Flax So first off, I want to celebrate one thing. You said that water is a universal language. And yes, it’s something that I’ve always been passionate about. And coming from the customer side, I was a customer I worked for. I worked for one of those municipalities for 15 years. And so coming into this particular role, I already had that sense of value and trust with the subject matter experts, because, as you said, they’re able to translate the technical information and share it with different audiences in the way that they can engage and interact with it. Now, coming on board, as you said, it wasn’t just Carlos. There are so many Coke has such an incredible amount of intelligence on board. And so the very first thing I wanted to do was get a better understanding, get a baseline of all of the individuals that were part of this thought leadership team, subject matter expert that was created before I came on board. And on top of that, understand what type of content they were producing. Where were they going out and speaking, What papers were they submitting to publications? Where were they being published? What webinars, what podcasts.

Bill Sherman What activity is actually happening? Let’s create a repository.

Stacy Flax Right, Exactly. And then let’s capture it. Let’s catalog it. And there’s and that’s critical because without doing so, you cannot tie your content to strategic plans, right? As an organization, you need to make sure that the information that you are distributing aligns with your organization as your organizational strategy. So that was the first thing that I had to do, is get people to start tracking it in one centralized space. And once we were able to do that, we began to and this is something that is critical as well. We had leadership support and support and encouragement from the very beginning for this program. But as we began to formalize and bring some transparency in and easy to see, it made it easier for them to see what the subject matter experts were participating in. I think they began to recognize the value of those activities even more. The other is in something you mentioned earlier, it’s the curiosity. So as we were collecting all of this information, I was also able to identify gaps in different media that we were maybe not as prevalent in, such as the podcast medium. And those were opportunities for us. It’s opportunities for us to kind of break outside the box, embrace our curiosity and do things that are a little bit different to spread that message. And then what’s very important, because it comes up every time you’re I’ve got to I’ve got to be able to measure the impact of what we’re.

Bill Sherman Absolutely. And that was going to be one of my questions. So go ahead.

Stacy Flax So that is that is critical because we have to be able to gauge the effectiveness of this program. We have to be able to measure the impact. So this can be done with various different metrics, such as the number of speaking engagements, the reach engagement of published articles, or even the growth in our organization’s reputation and influence, which is a little hard to hard to measure. I will tell you, if there’s someone out there that has the ideal equation to measure thought leadership, please, please reach out and let’s have a conversation, because it is it’s a work in progress. One thing that we have done is taken a lot of the elements that I just mentioned and. It built them into a what I’m calling a thought leadership quotient tool. So we’re able to take all of these, let’s just say tools of measurements, different ways of measurements, and build out what we what we had last year. So a baseline and then put some coefficients on it to make sure that we’re balancing. We’re working on that piece as well, but puts it putting some coefficients in so that we can balance the value of each of these activities. Because doing a social media post and presenting at a conference probably aren’t going to.

Bill Sherman Get one LinkedIn post probably isn’t equal to a full presentation.

Stacy Flax Exactly. Exactly. So like I said, it’s a work in progress, but we’re hoping that what this thought leadership quotient will do is be able to provide us with really validation to say that formalizing this program was absolutely the right thing to do. So now we have not only been able to amplify our content and engagements, but we’ve been able to identify areas where we did not have as much engagement and presence and then strategically start to find those opportunities and place our. So that’s kind of what we’re looking at now. Again, we’re about a year and a half into really formalizing this program. And I always say thought leadership is a mayor is a marathon. It is not a sprint. So you have to be patient. And we’re looking at a 3-to-5-year window here. You’re not going to see the light tomorrow.

Bill Sherman Absolutely. And a couple of things that I would add to that. There’s probably several different equations rather than one. So there’s an internal participation rate in terms of who’s speaking where, how much, how much has the organization internally bought into a culture of creating thought leadership? Then there’s a deployment sort of equation, and then probably you’ve got an impact equation. So I think we’re trying to solve and I’ve had this conversation in different formats before. If you try to conflate them into one, it’s tricky. But if you separate them out, that head starts becoming manageable and you can do it almost at an anecdote to begin with. Like you said, you started with the list of Let me collect where people have been speaking, writing, etc. Ha. We did 12 articles last year. Okay, can we do 14 this year and are they in equal or better places? Is it anecdotal? Absolutely. But at least you’re starting to measure it.

Stacy Flax That’s right. And, you know, some of them, as you just said, are just quantitative, Right? We’re just counting and we’re trying to increase that number over time. And then some are qualitative and those are the trickier ones that we’re continuing to evolve and develop this year. And I’m sure we will be in the future as well.

Bill Sherman Yeah, you can have a conversation around for your sales team. How many internally on the sales team are taking that thought leadership and sharing it with their clients and having meaningful conversations? Because as much as Carlos can go and travel and speak, he’s limited to the number of flight hours he can have in a calendar year. Full stop, right?

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Bill Sherman Thinking about that, there’s one topic that I think I would be remiss to not talk about in terms of the history of thought leadership with the two of you, and that’s Jon Snow. Because I think in many ways, if you look back in terms of thought leadership and looking at the Broad Street pump and the detection of cholera in the water supply, the challenges that were there in the 19th century, getting people to listen and go, no, no, no, no. Color is not in the air, it’s in the water. And now we have similar conversations today about how do we keep our water pure. So I want to have that sort of open ended to you, you know, not Jon Snow, the Game of Thrones character, but Jon Snow, the scientist. And doctor, how do you see this through line of thought leadership in the work for pure water and healthy water for people, Carlos. And what are your challenges today?

Carlos Williams Yeah. So, I mean, Jon Snow and the discovery of cholera, I think it’s a it’s a great place to start because really and I talk about this a lot when I when I teach classes, you know, And so certainly the people at the top of the water industry, they’re already aware of this, but. And maybe I want to go back to just briefly do a thing that you said before about this, this idea that so many people. I think everybody can acknowledge how critical water is to every facet of our lives. You know, just for our very survival. But if you think about it, so many people and I was I was this person, too, before I started working in water quality and water analysis, because I just opened up my tap. We drank water. I gave it to my kids. You know, we cooked with it, we bathe with it, whatever. We did everything with it. And I never thought about where it came from and I never thought anything about where it went. You know, and so, I mean, it’s something that. And I think I just make it a, you know, maybe a public service announcement or a statement that I think we’re so fortunate to live in a place, because not every place in the world is like this, to live in a place where we could just. Open up the tap and we have absolute trust that the water that we’re drinking and giving to our families is does not have cholera and does not have typhoid fever and that we’re not going to get amoebic dysentery from what we’re drinking. Right. And I think I think it’s something that we just as a society probably take for granted, because many people have never been to places where or heard stories about people who have had this issue. A quick anecdote about this. There was a class I was teaching for a group of international people. They had all come to Hawk from all over the world. They were people who were working in different capacities for Iraq or were going to. And there was a gentleman from India who had grown up in a place where not only did they not have clean water, they didn’t even have running water. I mean, this was this was in a city, right? This wasn’t in a far flung village. And when the water was running a few hours a day that it was they had to collect everything and put it in pots and pans, boil it all, and then they could use it for cooking and drinking. So. So where do we go? Thinking about all of these different things. And how does that connect to thought leadership? So I think that’s one of the narratives that that we start with. Right. Because when we’re talking, I think when you have something that you’re trying to convey to the broadest base of people, starting with that is saying, look, here’s where we started, right? There was cholera, there was typhoid fever. And when we introduced filtration and disinfection in the late 1890s, early 1900s, that you can see this. Anybody can look it up and go on the Internet and find this data. But you can see that the incidence of cholera and typhoid fever related deaths went down almost and eventually to nothing. And if you think about those words that I’m saying, we don’t we don’t even think about that in the United States. I mean, it’s not even a question. Nobody gets cholera here. Nobody gets typhoid fever. And it’s rampant in other countries. I mean, millions of people die from it every year. So as in terms of a narrative, we start there and say, look, here’s where we started, here’s why it’s important, and then we can build on whatever other thing that we’re trying to talk about, whereas this is where we started it. Now we can measure all these different parameters in water to make your water safer, to make your water better. Here are new technologies that because. Another way that that that that narrative is so important is there are new technologies out there because when Jon Snow, just like you said, Bill, when Jon Snow was first talking about this, they were like, now, you know, Jon, you don’t know what you’re talking about. The color is in the air. It’s not in the what? What what’s wrong with the what’s this wrong with the water? You know, everybody in a village going to one barrel and drinking from the same ladle. Yeah. Who wonders why people got sick, Right. In addition to no disinfection. So I think that’s a great starting point to say, just like now, we just accept that as a matter of fact that we need to disinfect to filter the water for everyone to be safe. There are other things now. There are different types of technologies that we have to move forward because just like with Jon Snow, people, people may not be like, Well, that’s something new and it’s different. We don’t know. But that’s part of our role and part of our job is to convey that.

Stacy Flax And I’m going to take it even a step further and remove myself from being an associate ad hoc and just being a mom and community member. I don’t want to have to think about those things. I don’t want to have to think about it. I want to be able to turn to an organization that is a trusted advisor that I have had, whether it’s through engaging with content that they’ve put out, or maybe it’s just word of mouth. I want to be able to turn to them and say, I don’t want to have to think about that, but I need your help. I need you to guide me along this path. If I have just, for example, I wouldn’t bring an electrician in to help with a plumbing issue. Right. I’m going to go to a plumber who I have had positive experiences with in the past, or I’ve gone out and I’ve read reviews. I’ve heard from others that this person is trustworthy and that the information and what they’re doing is going to be the best of the best. Right. So as you know, the thought leadership communication manager here at HOK, I feel very fortunate to be able to work with those trusted advisers. And so communicating our educating, really, it’s educating, so educating our audience to a point where they feel that they can come to us and engage in those conversations and plan for the future is critical. And they don’t have to think about the details that Carlos thinks about on a daily basis. He can think about all the technical pieces and give them the translated version.

Bill Sherman Well, and for example. And I think that’s a great sort of thing of the is somebody watching this and do they understand it? Because I don’t write cholera, as Carlos, you said, has been mostly solved in the U.S.. Right. As a problem, not necessarily elsewhere, but in the U.S. But now we have people, moms, to your point, Stacy, who are wondering what’s in the water? Are there you know that plastic particulates, the fast that are there? And is someone keeping my water safe? Carlos.

Carlos Williams Yeah, it’s a it’s a great point. And I and I think now thought leadership is in in this area is something that’s even more important because you know, back in the days of John Snow and either even, you know, 30 plus years ago, all of this, you know, everybody knows we live in a world where you can find information about anything pretty much at any time that you want. Right. And then there’s also this news cycle that lets you know about when anything happens anywhere in the country or anywhere in the world. And so if something happens in Flint, Michigan, and people start to worry about their water. So this is another facet of thought. Leadership is to make people to help people and make people know that, hey, people are on this, people are studying this, and things like microplastic plastics and things like P fast. These are those newest things. Right. So one of the interesting things that we need to convey is thought leaders in this area too, is that is this idea between cholera was it is acute problem, right. You get it. You drink the water, you get sick. If it isn’t treated it’s very likely that that if you’re an infant or you’re elderly or infirm in some way that you could die. Whereas some of these things one of the challenges with things like P fast and things like microplastics is that there may be a more chronic component to that. It’s not like if I drink one glass of water that has five parts per trillion of fats in it, I’m not going to die right there. Right. But like, like with many other things that are that are regulated in water, we drink water every day. Right. And a lot of people drink tap water every day. And so those things also have to be a consideration because a lifetime of consuming tap water, we have to be worried about these things. Right. Both those things that you mentioned and these are the newest things on the frontier that people are worried about because like a Jon Snow’s day, they’re just worried about people dying from drinking a glass of water, a baby dying for drinking a glass of water, you know, And so now it’s even a little bit more opaque to the general public because they’re like, why are we worrying about parts per trillion of things? But it’s because we drink this water every single day of our lives. And so from the time that we were born until the time that we die and we don’t want to make that time that we die any shorter because we’ve been drinking this water our whole lives.

Bill Sherman So as we begin to wrap up here, I want to ask each of you a question. You’ve both been in the practice of thought leadership, and there are people who are coming into the field now who are looking going, okay, what should I be doing? My question to the two of you is, looking back to when you started practicing leadership, what advice would you give your younger self? Stacy, I’ll start with you.

Stacy Flax Okay. I think it’s there are two pieces that come to mind. The very first piece is it’s not going to happen overnight. And I think that’s something that for me, I like to start a project and finish it. And when I first started with thought leadership, I came to the very quick and slightly painful realization that that is not what happens with thought leadership. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s definitely a marathon. It’s not a sprint. And the second one, I think I would give the second piece of advice. I would say ask as many questions as you can, make sure that you are having conversations with others in the industry and asking all the questions, even if you think it’s a question that you should already know, ask it, because that’s something I don’t think when I when I started in the beginning, I did enough of. And so it’s caused me to have to go back. And you never want to go back. You never want to go back and say, hey, you know, I thought I knew the answer to this. I didn’t. Obviously, this is this is wrong. A lot of time and effort has gone into this. Ask all the questions, make the contacts, build the relationships. Relationships. Are going to get you there. This isn’t done overnight and it’s not done alone. So I would say be patient and build relationships. Those are the two pieces of advice.

Bill Sherman That’s a great piece on the building, the relationships. And I think you also mentioned they’re having sort of like a learner’s mind and dancing and asking lots of questions. That’s one of the things I love about ball leadership is I get to ask lots of questions from people who know a lot on their subject. Thank you. What advice would you give?

Carlos Williams I love that part of what you guys are talking about. I heard a great quote. I don’t know who to attribute it to, but it’s something that’s always stuck out in my mind on this subject, is that we were born with two years and one mouth. So if we can listen twice as much as we talk, we’re always better for it, right? And so I think that would be first off, one of the things I would do as well is just when I first I came, you know, I’m a chemist by education, by training. And I came to hockey knowing chemistry, but not necessarily knowing water analysis. And I everybody can benefit from asking questions, talking less and listening more. Right. There are certainly things that we want to convey by talking to people, but such a huge part of thought leadership is meeting people where they are. Right. It goes back to that idea of you’re not going to talk to a middle schooler the way you are to a chemist. Right. But we have things to tell people on that entire spectrum. And it’s just about conveying something to where it resonates with them. And so that that would probably be the first thing and probably the most important thing is to, in addition to listening, is just know your audience, know who you’re speaking to and know how to talk to them. And I think when I first came in, I just talked like a chemist, you know, because that’s really I was in in processes, in industrial processes and in laboratories and kind of everybody more or less knew what was going on. So I really didn’t have to think, well, you know, I have to I have to convey this and communicate this in a certain way that people are going to understand. But that’s really the key. One of the keys, the thought leadership is getting the point across. We’ve all had the experience of somebody in our lives that we remember, whether it was a teacher, whether it was a mentor, whether it was a friend that did something or said something or taught us something that we never forget. We never forget that person for what they did for us. And really, to me, thought leadership is about finding that magic and being that person, that or that message that hit somebody to where they never forget it.

Bill Sherman That’s a fantastic point. And on the note of finding that magic through thought leadership and evoking wonder, I think we’re going to have to leave it there. Stacy, Carlos, thank you for joining us today.

Stacy Flax Thank you, too.

Carlos Williams Good to be with you, Bill.

Bill Sherman If you’re interested in organizational thought leadership, then I invite you to subscribe to the OrgTL newsletter. Each month, we talk about the people who create, curate, and deploy thought leadership on behalf of their organizations. Go to the website,, and choose ‘Join our newsletter’. I’ll leave a link to the website as well as my LinkedIn profile in the show notes. Thanks for listening, and I look forward to hearing what you thought of the show.


Bill Sherman works with thought leaders to launch big ideas within well-known brands. He is the COO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Bill on Twitter

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