When Kiran Mazumdbar-Shaw began her career as a certified brewmaster in 1975, she had no idea she would eventually go on to start her own biopharmaceutical company, Biocon Limited, and become one of the most influential and richest women in the world.
This self-made entrepreneur and thought leader has contributed exponentially to the medical and pharmaceutical industries. As a lifelong advocate for affordable medications, along with her impressive list of accomplishments, she earned a place on Medicine Maker’s 2020 Power List, as well as on Forbes 2020 list of the World’s 100 Most Influential Women.
But what exactly qualifies Mazumdbar-Shaw as a thought leader, and why are entrepreneurs so cut out for this coveted title?
Defining thought leadership
In the age of social media and digital marketing, the term thought leadership has morphed into an overused buzzword attributed to almost anyone who wants to claim it. But what exactly does this term mean and is it even useful to strive to be a thought leader today?
To answer this question, let’s differentiate between a thought leader and a subject matter expert.
While a thought leader will no doubt be a subject matter expert, the opposite is not always true. The latter is an experienced professional who is well-versed in a specific field. They may be known for their wealth of knowledge and be regarded as an industry leader. Subject matter experts work hard for their accomplishments and possess the foundational attributes to become a thought leader.
Thought leaders, on the other hand, possess two primary traits that push them beyond the label of subject matter experts. First, they consistently develop new concepts, ideas and strategies to improve and refine their industries. Second, thought leaders share these ideas with others in simplified terms that they can understand.
Entrepreneurs not only contribute to industry conversations, but lead, educate and motivate others to be innovative and think outside the box. They’re game changers, the ones who set sail and shift direction entirely when they find a better route. You need not only passion and expertise, but critical thinking, patience and courage to put your thoughts and ideas out there and, ultimately, take action.
This is exactly why thought leadership and entrepreneurship go hand in hand.
Why entrepreneurs make exceptional thought leaders
While there are many types of entrepreneurs, they all have one thing in common: Entrepreneurs are natural-born problem solvers who create something out of nothing. They possess entrepreneurship skills like vision and perseverance to turn an idea into reality that no doubt comes with many bumps in the road. Entrepreneurs also have the ability to see the bigger picture and imagine a new and different world, one that utilizes and benefits from their ingenious innovation.
So how was Kiran Mazumbdar-Shaw able to not only accomplish so many professional goals, but claim the title of thought leader? The truth is, entrepreneurs and thought leaders share similar qualities and personality traits that can help us understand why, oftentimes, the two are one and the same.
Muzumbdar-Shaw’s journey began in 1978 from the garage of her home in Bengaluru, India at age 25. Her initial intention when creating Biocon was to focus on extracting and manufacturing specialty enzymes for medical purposes, such as papain from papaya. After doing so successfully, Biocon became the first Indian company to export these materials to the US and Europe. It was at this point that the company transitioned from solely enzyme production to manufacturing biopharmaceuticals.
A central component of Mazumbdar-Shaw’s motivation behind her work was her belief that everyone should be able to afford the medications they need to maintain their health. She was adamant about incorporating this into her business model so that drugs would be easily available to developing countries and vulnerable populations, and encouraged other pharmaceutical companies to do the same. However, she faced grueling discrimination because she was a woman and had a difficult time finding employees and investors because of her gender.
But she persevered and remained adamantly outspoken against rising drug costs and spikes in pricing, boosting India’s reputation as a global leader in pharmaceutical development. Ultimately, her philanthropic efforts have made her a trailblazer at the forefront of affordable pharmaceuticals.
As she states:
“All entrepreneurs have a responsibility to the world around them and the communities in which they operate.”
This is her legacy.
How can entrepreneurs develop their own thought leadership?
Just as Mazumbdar-Shaw’s passion and drive goes beyond the scope of her business, developing your own thought leadership requires diligence and continued effort. It can earn you respect, esteem and admiration, as well as the chance to create new business models and industry standards.
Here's how you can start developing your own.
Consider your impact
As an entrepreneur, you’ve already started a business and ventured into the business world. But consider the core message you strive to share and the larger impact you want to have. What do you see as your overall purpose and do you have a bigger mission you have yet to accomplish? There is no right or wrong answer, but becoming a thought leader requires exactly that: leadership. Perhaps you want to help bridge the digital divide or reduce the burden of carbon emissions on the environment. Spend some time thinking about the mark you want to leave on your industry — and on the world.
Create content — and plenty of it
The key to establishing yourself as a thought leader is creating written and visual content that conveys your message. Having knowledge is not enough; you need to share it with others and prove why your ideas are worth putting into action.
One way you can do this is by having your own platform, for example, creating a blog. Dedicate yourself to writing a new article every week in which you share changes you want to see within your field, effective strategies you’ve implemented within your own business and the direction you see the industry going.
You can also reach out to other relevant online publications and ask to be a guest contributor. Then, use social media, newsletters and your personal website to share your written work.
Video is also extremely valuable. In fact, people retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video compared to 10% when reading it in text. Because of this, this type of engagement can significantly help strengthen brand identity, build community and incite conversations. Using a platform like YouTube allows you to network, grow your following, boost your online reputation and reach new audiences. Just make sure each video is professional in quality, whether you create them yourself or hire someone to film you.
And lastly, live speaking engagements are one of the most strategic ways to get your voice heard. Think conferences, university lectures and even TED Talks. The opportunity to stand and speak in front of your peers allows you to reach people on a more personal level. You have the chance to more fully engross your audience, demystify your ideas and solidify your message.
While establishing thought leadership is an ongoing process, entrepreneurs already possess the dedication and tenacity required to do so. It’s their passion, commitment to their work and their natural-born drive that motivates them to persevere. By sharing their expertise and personal credence with the world, entrepreneurs have the power to be the future of the modern day workforce.