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Neil Dhillon's Expert Advice on Thought Leadership
The words "thought leadership" sometimes bring up images of "thought control," although according to Neil Dhillon, nothing could be further from the truth. "If you are truly a thought leader, you recognize your responsibility to use best practices to influence your audience and get your message across," says Dhillon. "Thought leadership is not a marketing 'trick'; it is a proven strategy to start the dialogue between recipient and speaker and, in its best form, is a cycle that works for everyone's benefit."
In explaining this statement, Dhillon, located on the web at https://about.me/NeilDhillon, notes that thought leadership can be defined as becoming an expert or authority on a given topic by creating that dialogue. "You do not become an expert by sitting along and refining your own thoughts," he notes. "Instead, you become an expert by getting out in the world and experiencing what it is you are talking about. While it may not always be literally possible to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty, we can certainly invite dialogue with those who have done so. In this way, we can vicariously experience many things and expand our knowledge of a given topic."
Neil Dhillon, as seen at http://www.magcloud.com/user/neildhillon, certainly has a history of doing just this himself. Upon graduating from The American University with a degree in Political Science in 1984, he quickly rose through the ranks of government, working closely with Congressman Bob Matsui. In 1988, he became Matsui's Chief of Staff. In 1993 he was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of Government Affairs at the United State Department of Transportation by then-President Bill Clinton, and was eventually recognized as the top Asian American appointee in a White House ceremony. He also worked with governors, Cabinet members and many others in high levels of government.
Since leaving politics, Dhillon has moved on to the private sector, working at the American Academy of Actuaries as Director of Media and Public Affairs, as Senior Vice President of Hill & Knowlton International Public Relations and most recently at his own firm.
Dhillon notes that in order to become an authority on any topic, it is necessary to deliver the right answers to an audience. This means finding the right questions, or the questions to which the audience actually wants answers. "Too many experts believe that they know what the people want, when in reality they are missing the mark," notes Dhillon. "The questions to which an audience wants answers may not be apparent at first; it may take some research to determine what people are looking for."
While there is always value in a unique perspective, determining what is relevant for the audience should always be the first step in good communication. Therefore, Dhillon advises a very simple strategy to start: "Get on a search engine and find out what questions people are actually asking. There are several good programs that allow you to do this. You may be surprised at what people are searching for."
Dhillon believes that the level of authority any person possesses is ultimately determined by his or her ability to answer the questions that the audience is asking. Besides knowing what these questions are, it is also important to determine how well the audience is understanding and assimilating the content. The only real way to do that, according to Dhillon, is to set up a dialogue. "The image of the sage on the mountain dispensing wisdom is a nice one, but it is not practical in terms of our daily lives," he says. "Dialogue, not monologue, is what builds trust. Building trust with an audience means opening the expert content up to examination. It may be a painful process, but you have to let your audience play with the content and give you feedback. Otherwise, you are simply shouting into a void with no idea at all of what the reactions are."
In other words, content strategy has to be flexible enough to withstand scrutiny, and experts must be willing to edit based on feedback. "That does not mean that you simply change your stance every time someone disagrees with you," notes Dhillon. "That is not what being an expert is about. What it does mean, however, is that you are secure enough in your knowledge of a subject, through your research and experiences, to address concerns, issues and differences of opinion in a professional way."
This addressing of concerns and opinions is the foundation for a strong reputation as an expert, according to Dhillon. "All experts have one thing in common: they have been wrong at some time in their past. Acknowledging that the process of becoming an expert is one of growth is very important. Learn all you can about a subject and become the master of it, but do not be afraid to examine feedback. What happens is that you enlist thousands of others as your research assistants, pointing out to you discrepancies or possible mistakes, while at the same time you also have thousands of editors, ready to let you know if your content is effective or not."
As a thought leadership expert, Dhillon understands the many aspects of creating great content. For more information on Neil Dhillon and his work as a thought leadership expert, see his website.
About Neil Dhillon: For decades, Neil Dhillon has been a leader in global public affairs while working with various administrations in Washington, D.C. Mr. Dhillon has worked as a successful lobbyist with direct access to the White House, Congress and state government leaders, including cabinet secretaries, Congressional leaders and Committee Chairs as well as governors. Today, his firm provides solutions to complex regulatory and legislative issues, thought leadership platforms, crisis communications and media relations.
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