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Thought Leadership that puts Humanity First | Aliza Hughes

Thought Leadership that puts Humanity First | Aliza Hughes

Sharing personal stories to strengthen your Thought Leadership.

An interview with Aliza Hughes about when, and how, to share your story in your thought leadership.

We all have personal stories of triumph and growth. Our history, our experiences, shape us and drive the most insightful parts of our thought leadership. So why is it so hard for us to share those stories?

Aliza Hughes is the Director of Thought Leadership at Zoecial Media, a company that provides social media management with the aim of growing the client’s audience and credibility through brand storytelling.

We start our conversation by discussing how uncomfortable it can be to share personal stories in our thought leadership – the very stories that best illuminate our insights, strengths, and growth! Aliza shares her thoughts on telling personal stories, and how even tales of failure can connect you to your audience, and connect you as humans in search of growth.

Aliza also explains that LinkedIn is important – get that first post out! While a certain level of professional polish needs to be present, perfection isn’t required, and seeking it is just another method of procrastination. We discuss getting comfortable with yourself, and growing your audience by taking part in comments – on your own posts, and on posts made by others –  as well as how to turn those comments into full fledged posts of their own.

This is a wonderful conversation for anyone looking to add a personal touch to their Linkedin and make audiences take notice!

Three Key Takeaways:
  • Don’t be afraid to have a more personal voice in your Thought Leadership content.
  • Passion plus expertise = Successful Thought Leadership.
  • Don’t compare likes and comments to other thought leadership posts; everyone is at a different place in their journey. Instead, focus on beating your own personal best.

Join the Organizational Thought Leadership Newsletter to learn more about expanding thought leadership within your organization! This monthly newsletter is full of practical information, advice, and ideas to help you reach your organization’s thought leadership goals.

And if you need help scaling organizational thought leadership, contact Thought Leadership Leverage!


Bill Sherman Thought leadership is a fundamentally human endeavor, or at least it should be thought leadership begins when we ask the question and decide to pursue it. Seeking answers? So how do we weave our humanity into thought leadership work? To explore that question with me is Aliza Hughes. She’s the director of thought leadership at social media. And she and I have had an ongoing conversation about this topic for the past few months. So today I’ve asked you to join me and we’re going to talk about issues of humanity, perfection and imperfection. How do we, as humans take ideas to scale? I’m Bill Sherman and you’re listening to Leveraging Thought Leadership. Ready. Let’s begin. Welcome to the show, Liza.

Aliza Hughes Thanks for having me.

Bill Sherman So I’m excited to dove into this conversation because I think there’s a topic that a lot of people, when they think about thought leadership, they wrestle with how much of themselves should they share when they’re putting their ideas on stage. What do you think about that?

Aliza Hughes Yeah, it’s such a great question, and I’m so glad that we’re going to have the opportunity to talk about this. I really I believe that everyone should do what they feel comfortable with, but not to be afraid to put yourself out there and to show a side of yourself that is true and authentic and real. I just I love when we see sides of people that maybe aren’t as polished, necessarily when people talk about, you know, challenges that they’ve had or maybe even failures, and where we have a WhatsApp group where we reach out because we’re all remote. And somebody shared a bio. I don’t remember where it was from, but the last line of the bio was this person has had failures, but that led them to the point that they are in their career. And I just love that so much because that’s who we are as people. We are fully formed people with all of our successes and all of our failures. And those are the things that get us to where we are today. And why should we be ashamed of those things? Why should we hide them? We should celebrate them in as many ways as we can because we learn from those. Oftentimes those failures are the things that we learn from the most. So why would we not share those parts of us that we’ve learned from, that we can share with others that they can learn from and show ourselves as fully formed people?

Bill Sherman And I think one of the challenges is almost category, right? So if you think about if you walk into a bookstore again, the mental sort of hypothetical, whether you’re looking at Amazon or you’re actually in a physical bookstore, you know, there’s sections, there’s business, there’s self-help. And I think people are typically more comfortable about sharing their own experiences and journey if it’s categorized sort of in a self-help way. But that limits what you can talk about on the business side. But on the business side, people sort of get cautious and go, Oh, if I tell too much about myself, am I putting myself into the story range? Sort of like a journalist who’s afraid of making themselves the story?

Aliza Hughes Right? But you know what? The funny thing is that the stories are what develop the person into a full person? Right? Every person has a story. Nothing was created out of just a business proposal. There’s a reason that somebody came to that idea, right? Maybe they were missing something in their lives, right? Necessity is the mother of invention, so somebody had a necessity that led them to that invention. So where does that not fit into the professional side of us? Because again, every professional person started with their story that led them to that place.

Bill Sherman So as head of thought leadership within your organization, I know you’re working with the number of people to encourage them to start telling their stories and to weave that in. Talk a little bit about how that conversation goes and where it’s gone well and where you’ve had to put in some extra work

Aliza Hughes and work with, you know, 20 to 30 people generally. And I have every range of somebody of people willing or not willing to share a part of themselves. You know, some people are just I’ll start asking them questions and, you know, we’ll really be able to get this great conversation about where they’re coming from and where they’re planning on going and how they feel about what they’re doing. And they’re just I don’t see an open book because I feel like that sometimes has a negative connotation, but they’re willing to share parts of themselves and there, and they’re happy to. And then it goes all the way across to the other side of the spectrum, too. I don’t want to say anything about myself. Don’t talk about me. I don’t even use the, you know, don’t even say, you know, like, and I’m just. You don’t understand, and I tried it, and I tried to pull that out of them a little bit like, Look, you’re a person and people want to feel like they can relate to you and they want to feel that they are connected to another real person, not a robot. I have one person that I was working with recently who has this great story about when to say professional tennis. You know, he played professional tennis in a previous life, quote unquote previously, right? And that is what part of what makes him who he is and led him to the place that he is today and he doesn’t want to talk about it at all. And I just it’s it’s frustrating because you want to help them get to a place where they can tell these stories and feel comfortable telling them, and also, more importantly, to the place where they understand that it’s the stories that attract us as humans to each other. And what we do with that is we. When you posted on LinkedIn, which is what we do, we our thought leadership is is only for LinkedIn. You see right away the difference in a post that is personal and authentic and relatable versus something that, you know, a little colder. I don’t want to stay stand offish, but when you take yourself out of the story, you’ve taken authenticity out of the story and it’s colder in a post that is personal and authentic. It flies. You can get thousands of views, even from somebody who doesn’t have a lot of followers. And time and time again, where one stakeholder that I work with was the CEO of a tech company, and he posts regularly on LinkedIn posts about what they’re doing, their product launches. You know, he posts this content, you know, as a regular pollster and regularly gets a fair amount of reactions and comments and views, according to how many you would expect from him. And then he posted about Father’s Day, a picture of himself and his son as they took a hike. It was right in the middle of a big push for them. The post flew people all of a sudden saw him not just as the CEO of this tech company, but all of a sudden as a person, as a father. I mean, how many people out there are a father have a father, you know, have a son, you know, just everybody can relate to that. And that’s what we want to see out of people that they are fully formed, authentic. Relatable. Getting out there and doing a hike on a Sunday or a Friday or whatever date is that people hike because that’s that’s real.

Bill Sherman Well, and I think one of the concerns that I’ve heard in terms of pushback is when I’m looking for those sorts of photos or stories, I go to Instagram or TikTok or something like that and you said that you focus on LinkedIn. I think a lot of people are wrestling with and even in a sort of. I hate to use the word post-COVID, but postcard of COVID is what I mean, right? People are wrestling with the concept of what does it mean to be a professional and to appear as a professional when we’re in meetings virtually 24-7 in Zoom? We’re we’re following the Sun. You know, our workspace is often our home space. Those boundaries have led and I think we’ve seen into each other’s lives more clearly than we would have. Normally we would have had meetings in more sterile office environments, right?

Aliza Hughes Yeah, it’s a great question. And like you said, you know, our professional lives have really bled into our personal lives. How many of us who have children had a child on a lap during a Zoom call? You know, at some point in the last 18 months, I don’t think there’s a parent who didn’t have. But if you think back there was that video that Apple put out and it was a work from home, I forget it was super famous. I forget what the title of it was. We’re just everybody is trying to pull together, you know, with the deadlines and the kids and the and the father with the kids, we’re putting the makeup on the face. That video flew. People were went nuts about it because it was something that they could laugh out because it was, you know, you can laugh at something that you can relate to. So, yeah, definitely the stringent, stringent notion that a word how strict we have to be about ourselves as professional people, I think is less than it was before COVID. That doesn’t mean that LinkedIn should become Instagram or TikTok or Facebook, and we have a joke, you know, like LinkedIn is not Facebook, so I don’t think it’s a place where you could put where you should post your what you had for lunch that would go on Instagram or where you went on your family vacation that goes on Facebook. They’re very strict, you know, quote unquote rules about what was on your platform. But if your vacation related to your professional life, for example, lots of people post I’m on vacation now as a statement to say I am not working. I am taking a break from my work because I’m a person who needs to recharge. And you know, I this is where I get creative ideas and you know, I’m going to come back fresh and excited in the, you know, after my vacation in the new year. At some point, I think that’s OK because again, it goes back to the idea that for people and we don’t sit at our desks, you know, straight from nine to five and then and then press the power button, we don’t turn off, you know, we are we are people 24 hours a day, and some of those hours were working and hopefully some of those hours were not working. And yeah, they’ve bled a little bit, but not too much. We know we don’t want again, we don’t want it to get too far afield because then people will lose interest.

Bill Sherman Well, and I think where the connection then becomes back to salt leadership, right, is I think when people are evaluating felt leadership or trying to figure out where is this person coming from? They want to get a sense of where is the person coming from, as well as what is their degree of passion for it? Right. And that ability to show your passion for a subject and to actually show why you care about it rather than, yeah, this is my job. I was told to write a white paper on Subject X. Therefore, I wrote, said white paper. Check the box done right.

Aliza Hughes Yeah, passion definitely comes through, all of us can sniff out a rat in one second. And I think passion also relates to expertise because when you are an expert about something, I’m going to say hopefully and most of the time, you’re also passionate about it. So those things come together when somebody is passionate about it, they’re speaking authoritatively, and that essentially moves you into the thought leader position because you have the passion, you have the expertise and now you’re sharing it with the world and people want to read, read, see you hear from people who have both of those things because you can have passion without expertise, but that loses. It loses weight very quickly. People can see through that. But if you have and you know, if you have an expertise but you’re not passionate about that, that would be surprising, but people will smell that out also. So both of those things, I think, really come together. But then you then you if you’re talking about it on LinkedIn, which is what we do, that is where a thought leader really comes, comes across and then can gain a following of people and really build a community of people who are passionate about that subject.

Bill Sherman So we’ve got a wide range of listeners here, some who are probably nodding their head and saying, Yeah, that’s exactly me. That’s what I do. That’s what I live all day long. And some people who maybe a little bit more hesitant to take that first step and to show who they are as a person. Do you have, based on your experience working with people recommendations, a tip or two of how to take that first step into showing themselves as a person through their thought leadership?

Aliza Hughes Yeah, absolutely. It can I. I speak from experience and I know people don’t want to hear about me. But as somebody who was not putting myself out there know I didn’t feel like I had what to share and that was more valuable than anybody else. But it took my own mentors to say to me, You know, you have an opinion about something and you should share that. And I would say that that’s true about anybody. Right. So sometimes it can be hard to really write your first thought leadership piece. A lot of people are very sensitive and very self-conscious about their writing, and that’s totally understandable, especially since people I think were in the same generation. You know, we weren’t we weren’t taught how to write for social media. We were taught how to write long form, and it is a different skill. So the first step I would say is just take, let’s say, maybe your organization is posting on social media, take the posts that was written for a LinkedIn and personalize it. You know, you could literally take the first, whatever it is like, this is a blog about. X, Y and Z and then have an opinion about X Y Z. What do you do for that organization? Are you a developer engineer? Are you in marketing or are you in the financial side? What do you contribute to this conversation? And I am this x y, and in this X, Y and Z organization and this is what I do, and this is my thoughts on the topic, and I’d love to hear what you have to say. And I think that that’s one of the most important things that people should do is engage other people in the conversation. Because when you can engage other people in conversation, it gets to the posting part much easier because commenting in part as part of a conversation feels safer. I would say here people feel much more confident in that, because then you know, you have like somebody cheering you on the side. It feels like you’re only talking to one person as opposed to potentially the millions of people who are on LinkedIn. So then when you when you start a conversation, you can you feel more you can feel more confident about that post that you did. You’ve created a conversation you’ve shown and another level. When somebody comments on your post and you’re able to come back again and add another point to it, it shows an even higher level of expertize that you can continue the conversation. And at the end of the day, it’s also I know people hate vanity metric, but to be able to say, Look how many likes I got on this post, look how many views I got on my post. There is, you know, you get that dopamine rush and you want to have it again. And I’m sure that I’m not the only one, but you know, when you’re a competitive person and you’re competing against yourself, oh, this post know, maybe I could do better. Maybe I could write it better this time. Maybe I could provide a different level of content value in the content. Maybe I could come at it from a different angle. There’s all these different ways that once you get started, post your first post, that is the first thing I’m going to say. No matter how bad it is, your mother and your best friend will come and they will like it, I promise. Right? So post that first one and maybe twenty five thousand people aren’t going to see it, but that’s OK because it’s your first one, right? Then you’re going to post your second one. Three more people are going to see it and like it. And as you gain confidence, you’re going to gain people who are seeing it and commenting on it. And so it grows from there. So don’t be afraid of the first one. Because, like I said, not that many people are probably going to see it, but when you have this, when you have your mother and your best friend and your boss, we’re going to come in any anyway. That’s enough to get you started and to hopefully give you the confidence thing going.

Bill Sherman If you are enjoying this episode of Leveraging Thought Leadership, please make sure to subscribe. If you’d like to help spread the word about the podcast, please leave a five star review and share it with your friends. We are available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all major platforms, as well as at Leveraging Thought Leadership dot com. Well, and you mentioned something there that I think for early on can be intimidating, right? You scrolled through LinkedIn and you see posts with thousands of likes or even hundreds. And you look at it and you’re like, I got to

Aliza Hughes Right and it’s hundreds.

Bill Sherman It’s humbling, right? And I think one of the things that’s important is to think about the concept of personal best. And I’m coming at this from like a runner’s perspective, right? And so, if you’re doing a couch to 5K, you’re looking at your own ability, distance that you’re running and your time and you’re not comparing it with Olympic athletes, right? And so, it is hard to have everybody’s view and like stats in front of you and go, Oh, wow, I only got that.

Aliza Hughes Well, maybe I shot the rhythm. The algorithm is a. Is painful at times, but it’s so important to remember that if you’re seeing somebody post and they have hundreds of, you know, reactions and hundreds of comments, that’s not their first post. Write yourself a favor, go to their profile, scroll all the way down to their first post and see, you know what happened there.

Bill Sherman You’ll see something like, Hello world, this is my first post, right? We were all there. Right, exactly. I think one of the things that becomes really important is as you’re putting that content out into the world, you’re listening. You talked about commenting right and responding to comments in the conversation. An easy way to jump in is comment on someone else’s post. But don’t just go, Hey, good article or something. Add something I think I feel. I believe that forces you to start revealing yourself a little bit and creates a different ad early on, and then you could take that comment and turn it into a whole post.

Aliza Hughes Absolutely. And you know, it’s a great idea if you have, for example, internally in your organization, a group of people who are posting already, you want to start in the safest space, start within your organization, comment on the post of somebody who sits next to you or did the first before COVID, you know, but who is in your internal group. So, and that’s safe, right? Because you know that you’re going to get a safe conversation going. And once you feel confident posting internally, then you can move the conversation out and start posting on, you know, second degree connections. People you don’t know, people who don’t know if they are going to agree with you or not based on what they say. But yeah, the commenting is a great, definitely a great way to get started.

Bill Sherman So one of the things that we’ve talked about through LinkedIn is that and you’ve alluded to here, but I want to call out, is that fear of perfectionism, right? That almost becomes a trap. And I think that people have this implicit assumption. The thought leadership not only has to be perfect in thinking, but perfect in communication. And I’d love to hear your thoughts and riff on that.

Aliza Hughes Oh my gosh. Well, first of all, as humans, we’re not perfect, even though we hope often we hold ourselves to impossible standards. But it’s OK. OK, I’m going to take a step back for a second, and I’m going to call myself out on a post that you and I disagree with again on, which was that I said if you are posting on social media or on LinkedIn, there shouldn’t be typos right in this day and age. There are so many tools out there to make sure that your post is 100 percent, your i’s are dotted and your t’s are crossed. There is nothing wrong with apples. Just like if you are a graphic designer, you would make sure that the design that you get sent out that you were sending out was 100 percent. And in any field that you do where you provide something that it’s going to be 100 percent and in once at a very close friend of mine sent me the post and highlighted where there was a typo that nobody else had noticed. And it’s funny because it is. It’s a word, right? So, then I’ll check and call it out. And you know what? I tried, and I still believe that we should try as hard as we can, and we should put out quality material, not just in the content, but also, we need to present it in a quality way. But you know what? Mistakes happen? We’re humans. We’re rushing. And it’s there.

Bill Sherman Well, and I think this is sort of the tension between is thought leadership a finished product? Or is it a journey and process and conversation and you’ve used the language of community? And I really view thought leadership as an ongoing conversation and community, right? And so, I know I’ve been guilty of times where I get off of a Paul and I’ve got five 10 minutes between a call, and I’ve got an idea that’s percolating because of that. And I’ll jump on LinkedIn, and I might do a two three sentence post. And it’s just he had an idea because I’m so excited to share that with others and hear what they think. Right? Not that I’ve got a perfect, but it’s like, Ooh, this is a good conversation, right?

Aliza Hughes Let’s see. It’s called Thought Leadership Leverage because thoughts are they just keep going and the presentation leadership, you know, not packaged with a bow, and I totally agree with you. I think that when you have a thought and you have an idea when you have a question, when you have a comment on something, put it out there. Yeah. You know, we’re professionals and we should make it, you know, we should tie it up pretty with a bow and make it look nice. But there sometimes. No, that’s not the right thing to do. Sometimes the right thing to do is just get it out there. You know, with the stakeholders we provide, we excuse me, we prepare. They’re content calendars we like to get of ready to go a month in advance, but sometimes something happens and we’re like, let’s just post about this right now because it’s hot, it’s fresh, it’s ready to go. People are talking about it, you know, like, let’s get into that conversation, like you said with the community.

Bill Sherman Well, and there is a not only seasonality, but also a news cycle sort of sometimes where the area that you’re talking about can go from sleepy backwater to back burner all the way to front burner. Everybody’s talking about it. It’s on the nightly news sort of thing, right? And so, in that moment, if you want to be part of that conversation, you can’t say, Well, I’m going to wait 72 hours to have a perfect peace if that’s what you’ve been talking about, you know, for months. Now’s your time to jump in.

Aliza Hughes Absolutely. There’s no time to, you know, send it to your editor and get it all cleaned up. And at the end of the day, if you really are a part of the conversation, then that’s not what you should be doing at all, because the point is to get into the conversation and to be authentic and to be real. And in these faster paced things, if you have a typo, people are going to excuse you because you were just so excited to get into the conversation and you didn’t send it to your editor, which would have deflated the authenticity a little bit.

Bill Sherman Exactly, and so I think there is the tension between speed and perfectionism and quality and depth of thinking. But if you’ve been thinking about a topic for months and months or years and years, anything that you dash off is more likely to have strong thinking underneath it. And people will forgive a Typekit, right? If you’re trying to have an opinion on something that you haven’t talked about before and haven’t thought about before, then, yeah,

Aliza Hughes you might want to be a little more careful about it. Exactly, exactly. Yeah. So we’re in agreement about that. Yeah. Yeah, there’s definitely a spectrum because like we’ve been saying, we’re people, we’re human, you know, we have thoughts and sometimes you think about them a little bit more. Sometimes you think about them a little bit less. But yeah, it’s all. It’s all there.

Bill Sherman Well, and this is one of the challenges as well, because the way that I distinguish personal branding is personal. Branding is about you. It’s a person in the spotlight. Your strengths, your skills, your characteristics, your personality, all of those things. The thought leadership is about the idea. Right? And so you’re putting the idea on stage. You don’t have to be the rock star. If the idea stands on its own. But even the rock star needs roadies, right? They need someone to do the mic, check to make sure that the guitars are tuned and all of those things. There’s a human element to thought leadership that’s not going to be outsourced to A.I. in the near future.

Aliza Hughes I agree. I think what they’re doing in the air space is remarkable, as you know, as we see the tech develop. But at the end of the day, you still need the person there with the thought

Bill Sherman and the person to ask the right question, because not all questions lead to interesting answers, right? You know, I can run data analysis after data analysis, but a lot of those will be so what’s yeah?

Aliza Hughes And it’s even interesting because, you know, you see people in marketing operations you do deal with, you know, a lot more technical stuff. You see a lot of reports, they’re doing a lot of processing, but they themselves have great ideas about what the computer is spinning out of. And I think that those posts can be really fun to read.

Bill Sherman The ability to form a hypothesis to do sense making around the data, those are the things that we’re good at that, you know, at least for now, A.I. isn’t.

Aliza Hughes Yeah. And you know, I’ll stick a little humor in there. Stick a little sarcasm. Give it some personality. I mean, that’s what makes it interesting.

Bill Sherman So as we begin to wrap up, I have a question for you that I want to ask. I want you to go back to the time that you took on the role of head of thought leadership in social media. And what I want to ask you is what advice would you give yourself when you took on that role? So knowing what you know today, what would you advise looking back?

Aliza Hughes Well, it’s a great question. I think it is so important not to overthink. I mean, we talk a lot about making it look great and thinking the thoughts, and you might have been thinking them for a really long time and they may be fully developed, but overthinking is negative also. Right? And if you have something to say, like we’ve been saying, say it, don’t sit on it. You know, don’t wait for it to arise in your mind. I would say it’s OK to put out even a non-fully developed thought and ask people to help you to bring in the community and say, Where am I going with this? What do you think? Can you help me? Because not only then have you had a thought, but you. You’ve asked your hive to chime in and to help you get there. And it’s OK, even as a thought leader to not always be the leader, right? It’s OK to bring in, you know, other people into the conversation and. Let somebody else show you also where to go and to take a little bit of a step back for a second and say, OK, what are we doing with this thought? And yeah, to host when it feels right, not only when it technically is right. Right? Technically, it’s right to post between the hours of, I don’t know, 10 and two. I think those are technically the right,

Bill Sherman depending on what time zone and what.

Aliza Hughes Yeah, exactly, exactly. But sometimes you have a thought in the middle of the night and then you jotted down or whatever people do nowadays, you know, when you wake up in the morning and you post it because it feels right now. So that’s what that’s what I would say to it.

Bill Sherman So I think there’s a lot more that you and I could talk about, but I think this is a good place to leave it here. Thank you for joining us, Aliza.

Aliza Hughes I had such a great time.

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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