How to find your purpose as a thought leader

Reframe your perspective from what you want to be known for today, to the legacy you will leave for future generations – with these three ways of looking.

You are someone’s future ancestor, whether you have kids or not. What do you want to be remembered for?

Often when I’m rescuing hard rubbish, I come across shoeboxes and albums full of photos. They’re not even that old – usually from the 1970s or 1980s. But in just a few decades, no one is connected enough to the people in the pictures to consider them worth saving. The crusher trucks come through, gorging on holiday and family snaps, and the last traces of someone’s child, husband, wife, or lover dissolve in landfill.

In just a few decades, do we become even less than a memory? No.

While we may not be remembered personally, our ideas and actions are imprinted onto the collective psyche. That imprint is carried forward in stories that hold our beliefs, fears and dreams. It is felt in the actions that become ‘second nature’ and the social norms that bind communities together.

The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people believe your impact lasts as long as seven generations. I had to crack out my calculator to figure out that if you start being a thought leader today, your impact may be felt until 2198 (considering there’s about 25 years per generation)!

This idea resonates with something I took away from Damon Salesa‘s keynote at the ATEM Inc Conference In Naarm/Melbourne in October. He gently encouraged us through Māori and Samoan proverbs to shape a deep sense of purpose by considering the concept of ‘eldership’ as it may apply to ourselves one day. Eldership is about more than leading. It is tied to wisdom, sacrifice, service and humility.

Ways of looking for bold thought leadership

As a leader, intrapreneur or innovator, it can feel daunting to reframe your perspective from what you want to be known for today, to the legacy you will leave for future generations. It’s hard enough to get cut-through on noisy social media channels today – so how on earth can you penetrate the nebulous dimension of time over the next 180 years? 

I recommend starting with three small, but powerful ways of looking to craft a purposeful personal brand.

1. Look within to design a meaningful personal brand

For many years I thought I would find fulfilment by sacrificing my own interests to satisfy the needs of others (I’m looking at you, Jesus). This route leads to resentment, aimless wandering, and burnout. 

Ask: What lights my fire? and What is my core desire?

2. Look out to design a human-centred personal brand

It’s likely that your core desire, when acted on, meets someone else’s need. 

Ask: ‘Who is this person’?, ‘What challenges are they facing’? and ‘What do they need from me?’. 

Humanise them by finding and meeting them in real life. Ask more questions.

3. Look beyond to create an impactful personal brand

As a thought leader you may be the ‘expert’, but you are never the saviour. Look beyond yourself and beyond the present by projecting into someone else’s reality in 180 years’ time. 

Ask (as this future human): ‘What is different now, because [insert your name] existed in the life of my great-great-grandmother?’. 

These are your final ripples, radiating out from the energy of your work. 

Building a unique personal brand with the Brand Builder Framework

The three ways of looking form part of the personal brand framework in my Brand Builder process, that I use with thought leaders to help them shape a unique sense of purpose and design their own story

They are a great starting point, but once you’ve considered them, your work is just beginning. Get in touch for more support with your own thought leadership process.

Note: you can explore the concept of the seven generations by following up on the work of Joanna Macy and The Work that Reconnects. 

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