How to Be a Leader

By Janet Driscoll Miller | Apr 22, 2013
More Articles by Janet


leader's dayToday is National Girl Scout Leader’s Day, and as many of you may know from my countless requests to purchase Thin Mints, I’m a Girl Scout Leader. One of the many reasons I decided to become a leader in this organization was to give back to the girls of today what I was given so many years ago as a girl myself — the gift of learning leadership.

What is a leader exactly? Beyond organizations like Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts who use the term “leader” as the head of a group, leaders are all around us although they might not be identified with that moniker. Leaders are everywhere around us. And as the events of last week in Boston showed us, leaders can spring from sometimes the most ordinary people. Leaders are necessary in all facets of life and especially in the business world.

In the world of digital marketing, many of us strive to be “industry leaders”. People like Danny Sullivan, Brett Tabke, Christine Churchill, Jill Whalen, Debra Mastaler, Andy Beal and Tim Ash are just a few people I think of when I think of industry leaders in the search industry. I’d like to think I’m on someone’s list as an industry leader as well. Industry leaders in search, as I define them, would be those that are highly knowledgeable and provide the rest of us in the industry with valuable guidance and information. Industry leaders have earned our respect through their knowledge and experience.

But how do you become an industry leader?

1. Know Your Stuff.

Good leaders in any field know their stuff. Leaders are effective when they understand the problems at hand and how to solve them. So first and foremost, know your stuff. Learn all that you can about your focus area, whether it be PPC, SEO, or some niche area of search, like authorship or schema.

2. Write….. a Lot.

When I started out in search years ago, blogs really weren’t popular yet and authorship snippets certainly didn’t exist. But today, there’s an abundance of ways you can show how much you know in search — primarily through blogging and print publication submissions.

Also try to guest post for other blogs. When I started out, I wrote for Search Engine Journal  and Marketing Pilgrim. Often blogs will put out a call for writers/columnists because they are always looking for fresh, great content. So keep an eye out for these opportunities. That’s how I started writing for Search Insider, and next month I’ll start posting for Search Engine Land.

3. Share.

Once you write, share it. But don’t just share your own work with the world — also share the works of others. Good leaders are not necessarily boastful. Good leaders share information that is of value, regardless of the source.  So share what you know and share the great pieces you find from others. Good leaders know how to share the spotlight with others.

4. Get to Know Other Leaders.

In the early days, I followed every word that Danny Sullivan, Jill Whalen, Debra Mastaler and Andy Beal said. Heck, I still do! And one of the best pieces of advice I can give others is to get to know other leaders that you admire. By being around these people, you’ll learn what they do well. Over time, I’ve been blessed to become friends with many of the leaders in search, and they’ve offered me invaluable advice along the way.

A great way to network with other leaders and get to know them is to attend industry conferences. You’ll find many of the leaders in this industry to be very approachable. Inside, we’re all search geeks, and we love to talk about it!

5. Speak on Something You Know.

Writing isn’t always enough to be respected as an industry leader, though. Speaking engagements are key to getting even broader exposure too. But don’t just jump into applying to speak at a big conference. Bigger conferences are often looking for a speaking resume because they want to feel confident you’ll be a good speaker for the conference. Start locally or with smaller speaking engagements to get your feet wet and to get used to speaking in groups.

If you’re nervous speaking in front of crowds, try speaking on a webinar first. Because you don’t actually see the webinar audience, webinars can alleviate some of the fear of public speaking.

6. Speak at Industry Conferences. 

Once you have a few speaking engagements under your belt, it’s time to move to the bigger industry conferences. Industry conferences expose you to many others in the industry and can help you develop followers. Typically the conferences put out a call for speakers several months in advance of the conference. For instance, in the case of Pubcon Las Vegas, the call for speakers was in April and the conference takes place in October. Make a spreadsheet of the conferences and their respective call for speaker deadlines so you don’t miss them!

There are often two rounds of selection: topic selection and speaker selection. If you have a great topic, be sure to submit it in the topic selection phase. Once topics are selected, an agenda is solidified and speakers can then submit an application in the speaker selection phase. Apply early! The earlier you apply, often the better your chance at being selected before too many people apply for a given panel.

I hope you find this advice helpful. Do you have any thoughts on how to be an industry leader? Leave a comment below — I’d love to hear what your thoughts are.

Go out there and become a leader!

Now I’m going to go eat some Thin Mints.

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