July 18, 2022

What Does it Take to Be a Thought Leader - with Ron Kaufman

What Does it Take to Be a Thought Leader - with Ron Kaufman

In this phenomenal episode of #TMTLpodcast Ron Kaufman shares foundational concepts on what does is really take to be a thought leader?

Ron is one of the world's top 10 recognised gurus in the world of Customer Service. He has built his thought leadership or genuine thinking, as he says, over the last 3 decades. How did he do it? How did he become a recognised thought leader? How did he stay undistracted for so many years? how did he build his community who follow him as their thought leader?

In this episode, Ron points out to the fundamentals that can help us understand ourselves better and also offers contrarian view point on why everyone should not be a thought leader!

This episodes is full of a-ha moments and the one that challenges our understanding about building thought leadership.

Know more about Ron's phenomenal work in the domain of Uplifting Service Cultures and Customer Service here:



Connect with him on  https://www.linkedin.com/in/ronkaufman/

[00:00:00] Surbhi Dedhia: Hello everyone. And welcome to a brand new episode on the making of a thought leader podcast. The podcast has hosted many guests so far, and we have learned greatly from them all. Today's episode is beyond special and here is why. Joining us today on the show is the one and only Ron Kaufman. Ron does not need an introduction per se, but for the episode introduction and for the benefit of those listeners, Ron is a man on a mission to uplift the spirit and quality of service and care everywhere in the world.

[00:00:41] Surbhi Dedhia: Ron is a world's leading educator and motivator for uplifting customer service and uplifting service cultures. He's the author of the book, uplifting service and 14 other books on service, business and inspiration. Ron is rated as one of the world's top 25 hot speakers by Speaker magazine for his high energy and high content presentations.

[00:01:10] Surbhi Dedhia: He has been featured in the New York times, the wall street journal and Harvard business review. And for four years in a row, global gurus has rated Ron as the number one customer service guru in the world. Ron's personal bio is very illustrious and perhaps it'll take me an entire episode to record all things wonderful that Ron has done to bring communities together and to improve the world with his presence.

[00:01:40] Surbhi Dedhia: Ron is one of the world's thought leader that I keenly follow and learn from every day. And it is an absolute honor for me to have him on the show with us today. So thank you so much, Ron, for joining on the show, 

[00:01:54] Ron Kaufman: What an absolute pleasure and delight to be with you Surbhi and through you and your podcast to all your listeners all over the world.

[00:02:03] Surbhi Dedhia: Yay. All right. I'm going to make the most of your time. And I'm going to start talking to you like one of those many deep conversations that we have had. So instead of the tactical part of becoming a thought leader, building one's own thought leadership today, we are going to dial backwards a little bit and begin with the very essence of thought leader, the word thought leader.

[00:02:29] Surbhi Dedhia: The first part of it thought begins with thinking. And how does one really go about the real thinking part about becoming a thought leader? 

[00:02:40] Ron Kaufman: Yeah. There are two keywords here thought, or as you said, thinking, and then leader, we could talk about that one separately. So the idea of genuinely think. Is something that very few people think constructively about.

[00:02:57] Ron Kaufman: We literally use the phrase like, well, you know what I think, or so tell me what you think and whatever, somebody just blurts out or comes to top of mind. And then we call that thinking. That's not thinking at all real thinking is when you bring yourself to engage with a topic. And engaging with that topic can be with other people.

[00:03:21] Ron Kaufman: It can be with written texts, which were written by other people. It can be through an online study of the history of some area. It can be in whatever manner, but you bring yourself to it. Not already knowing where you're gonna end up. What do you mean not knowing where I'm gonna end up? I, I should have a goal in mind.

[00:03:41] Ron Kaufman: I shouldn't know where I'm headed. I mean, you know, clarity. No, no, no. But then you're not thinking you're just planning. Then you're just executing, then you're just fulfilling or following. Real thinking requires a level of creative discovery, a a, a collaborative exploration between yourself and others. Others who've come before you others that like you and I are doing right now, then you can say, you know what?

[00:04:05] Ron Kaufman: I know we were thinking because we came up with some ideas that I didn't know we were going to come up with before we had this conversation. Ah, we were thinking. So when you say thought leadership, we're talking about somebody who leads others in the direction of genuinely new thinking. 

[00:04:25] Surbhi Dedhia: Wow. Wow. That is so much there.

[00:04:28] Surbhi Dedhia: And let me just unpack it a little bit by saying that, just reiterating what you said that genuine thinking is really when you have given that the time and the space to think about new ideas, new way of. Determining the solution for problems either individually together. And then the second part of it is to actually lead others with that new way of thinking, right?

[00:04:56] Ron Kaufman: That's the leadership part, but be careful with what you just said, you know, new solutions to problems. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Even the idea that we say. Is this genuinely a problem? Is it a problem that needs a solution? In other words, there's already a lot of assumption in there. So sincere deep thinking would mean stepping back, challenging questioning, wondering, being curious about how even our interpretation of a field came to be a certain way, observing the way that field has evolved.

[00:05:30] Ron Kaufman: Where is it now? How did it innovate to get to this point? Where might it go next? Not in a predictive engineering manner, where will it go? And then I'm gonna solve the problem to get there. Okay. There's nothing wrong with that kind of approach, but then it's not genuine thought leadership.

[00:05:47] Surbhi Dedhia: I see. Wow. That's very different way of thinking, to thought leadership really. And actually speaking thought leadership itself has had a lot of flak. The word thought leader, because a lot of people just assume that they are thought leaders. They put like this tagline on saying that they are thought leaders.

[00:06:07] Surbhi Dedhia: And, um, because of this rampant misuse of the term thought leader, You know, this, this term is that generally looked upon as another marketing buzzword. 

[00:06:20] Ron Kaufman: Yeah. It's frivolous. And the reality is thought leader is not really a term one should use about oneself. It's what other people say about you. Right. In other words, that person is leading the way we think.

[00:06:35] Ron Kaufman: In some domain we refer to she or to he, or to them as thought leaders. 

[00:06:43] Surbhi Dedhia: Mm, true. That's absolutely the thinking, behind all that I do around this podcast and the concept of thought leadership. Now, what happens is when you have this clarity, that thinking is genuinely about this domain, about this topic, what has been done so far and how do we go ahead in this direction? How does. Cut out the fluff, right? Like that is just so much content. We are inundated with content, like right. Left and center. But how do you, how do you untangle yourself from all it

[00:07:16] Ron Kaufman: It's actually not that difficult. You could take any particular domain of human engagement. Would you pick one for us?

[00:07:24] Surbhi Dedhia: Customer medicine. Was it customer service? 

[00:07:27] Ron Kaufman: I, yeah, make it too easy for me. but let's use that. Okay. So at what point in human development of societies, did the idea of a customer come into being well, it would've been associated with trade of some sort, because you would have brought your custom. To someone or other, and the idea of servicing a customer mm-hmm , would've had more to it than just a buy, sell transaction.

[00:08:01] Ron Kaufman: Right? You could buy, sell, you could trade without having customer service. Mm-hmm .So then service became more than simply the exchange. Right? You can go way back in. Yeah. And if you picked any field negotiation, stress management, health, resilience, wellbeing, sleep, child raising aging, you know, governance of political bodies.

[00:08:26] Ron Kaufman: You name it. You can go into Wikipedia for example, and look back through the historical anchor points. Mm-hmm and then ask your. How well versed. Am I in those? Yeah. Who were the core speakers or the writers in that field? What were the technological innovations that enabled that field to develop? For example, in the early early days of markets, When you had your, you met your customers mm-hmm or when there were trade routes.

[00:08:59] Ron Kaufman: And so then you had the merchants that traveled between cultures and they would convene at certain crossroads, right, right. Where they would connect with and then, and then they wanted do trade more. So then you needed to have a different kind of customization of what you brought. Et cetera, et cetera.

[00:09:17] Ron Kaufman: Right now, I'm going way back. I know, but if I wanna be a thought leader in customer service, and I can't tell you how my field developed, I can't tell you where the major inflection points were. I can't tell you how technology influenced the development of the field. I can't tell you how social practices evolved around that field.

[00:09:34] Ron Kaufman: What are the current challenges and issues and difficulties and key speakers in the field right now? What are the questions for the future? And then you say I'm a thought leader and you can't tell me about your domain. Like I just rifted out for customer service. Woohoo. Then you're shallow. 

[00:09:53] Surbhi Dedhia: Right. And so you said about this particular domain about customer service.

[00:09:57] Surbhi Dedhia: And what about these domains, which actually impact many other domains, like, say for example, digital marketing, say for example technology, what about that? Like you, they are across the fields. 

[00:10:09] Ron Kaufman: Super. So first of all, let, I mean, let's be clear. What is technology? Do you know what the etymology of the word is?

[00:10:17] Ron Kaufman: It means the world and the study of tools. Tools tools. So you wanna talk about technology? Let's go back to the water wheel. Yeah, right. Let's you know, let's go back to the first plow pulled by a donkey. Okay. That was technology. That's not what you meant. No, exactly. So then, but, but how helpful it would be if somebody wants to be a technology thought leader to at least have the historical respect and understanding of how the field is evolved and then within what you actually meant by technology, you select some specific domain of action mm-hmm in which you say.

[00:10:53] Ron Kaufman: Is the space in which I wanna make a contribution. Right. So then you did you narrowed it down to digital marketing. Okay. But then we need to also look at, well, wait, what do we mean by marketing? When did marketing begin? What were the practices of marketing? Why marketing? What, what are the four Ps? What are the babababa, you know, how did marketing evolve and then when did digital come in and how did that, and then where is the state of the art of that today?

[00:11:20] Ron Kaufman: And what are the benefits and what are the concerns and what are the breakdowns? And what's at the leading edge and what's at the bleeding edge. Yes. Now you don't have to be at the bleeding edge to be a thought leader, but you'd better be very conversant in whatever domain you wanna make that claim.

[00:11:36] Surbhi Dedhia: Mm-hmm. Right. Wow. That is so powerful. And in depth, thank you for giving that clarity. I think that is what is missing for so many of the people that the clarity of thought. And just as we began our discussion today about thinking, and the next part is the clarity, the clear thinking in what you want to build your expertise.

[00:12:00] Ron Kaufman: Yeah. And there's a Surbhi, there's a certain discipline in that, but let's be clear. One of the things about the current era is that there's so much fluff as you called it. Yeah. About, you know, make a million dollars overnight, you know, the instant millionaire, you know, this one thing will solve all your life.

[00:12:19] Ron Kaufman: Oh, bull. Right now I understand that advertisers have been making claims like that forever, but it doesn't mean that anyone who aspires to thought leadership should buy it. You have to accept that you're going to need to do your studies. You're gonna need to spend the time and invest the effort to genuinely learn about your field so that you can converse with other thought leaders in the domain.

[00:12:46] Ron Kaufman: And those are precious conversations because when you get two or three people who are leading in the thinking in a field, they know that they don't know where the conversation is going to go. Mm-hmm and they're excited about it. 

[00:13:03] Surbhi Dedhia: That is, that is so true in my experience so far, I meet entrepreneurs who have this insight, like the experience of developing this product and service and. Putting it out in the market and knowing how this is going to solve their problems. But this is like from present to future it's the, the past to the present is something which is kind of amiss. And that's where the confusion happens, because then what you're talking about is now and how it is going to solve your problem.

[00:13:35] Surbhi Dedhia: And beyond this, you really don't have anything to talk about because you've missed this critical piece, which you just explained earlier. 

[00:13:42] Ron Kaufman: And it's not just theoretical history. Remember that the history that we've all lived in, what you referred to as the past mm-hmm that actually lives in us in the present.

[00:13:54] Ron Kaufman: Mm-hmm take for example, um, the use of the word digital marketing. Yeah. Right. Where did that come from? At what point? In the life of Surbhi mm-hmm did she become interested in market? Well, I know you did studies in the area and you worked in the area, et cetera. And then here you are in the present and yet, so much of what has shaped your way of thinking and the way you perceive things from that past is here with us.

[00:14:19] Ron Kaufman: And that's true with every reader, every customer, every follower, every subscriber, every client, Hmm, fiber, every client, you don't start from a clean slate. 

[00:14:28] Surbhi Dedhia: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. But it is, it is that recognizing and the clarity of thought that this is what I am with this experiences and then putting it in stories to engage with your audience in the current and the future.

[00:14:44] Ron Kaufman: I go, once I not, this is what I am. This is what I have been Uhhuh. But in this moment, I'm not sure what exactly I'm gonna become next. Then you can say that person's genuinely a leader. Mm. Because they're open to the invention of the future in every moment. 

[00:15:06] Surbhi Dedhia: Absolutely wonderful avenue to kind of suddenly you just this opening of the door that, yeah. This is like the aha that I always get from you that correct. I have been this so far and that itself opens up the opportunity that you're willing to try out and open up new avenues for yourself. 

[00:15:26] Ron Kaufman: And, and whoever it is, you're dancing with . So for example, if you make an offer and they accept the offer, really what you're saying is not, okay.

[00:15:34] Ron Kaufman: Now it's my responsibility to deliver the terms and conditions of satisfaction so that you will pay my invoice. Yeah. You could look at it that way, but that's not real life. Real life is here we go. Where embarking now on something that has a certain adventurous quality to it, because while we can both have agreed about the promises we made, we don't know what's gonna happen tomorrow.

[00:15:56] Ron Kaufman: We don't know for sure how this is gonna pan out and play out. So let's go embark and create our lives together. True. 

[00:16:04] Surbhi Dedhia: When you said together, you know, there's this aspect of community. That you also, because that's not only one customer and one you, that you are embarking, it's also their team. It's also your team.

[00:16:17] Surbhi Dedhia: It's also perhaps your vendors and the entire network. So it's like this whole ecosystem suddenly. And what is a role of community when you know you as a person, want to pursue this thought leadership, aspirationally, and then you are doing this day to day job, but then how do I create this community along with me?

[00:16:38] Surbhi Dedhia: How do I grow with the community? 

[00:16:41] Ron Kaufman: Right. I love the way you put it just at the very end when you said, how do I grow with this community? So there's an issue here with the way language has developed our understanding of life. Mm-hmm okay. The moment, the word you was invented, we created this separation that said you are not me and I am not you. Okay. And yet, and then we live in the idea that myself, my authentic self, my true self, my real self, my genuine self come on. The self is a social phenomenon. Hmm. In other words, who you are Surbhi is yeah, sure. It's whatever you say to yourself about yourself, but that's all given by the way, in which all of those of us around you also hold you, think of you reach out to you, trust you, challenge you wonder about you, gossip about you.

[00:17:39] Ron Kaufman: So when you say, how do you grow with a community? The first step is to recognize that who you are is a social phenomenon. Your public identity is not what you say about you. It's what we say about you. And so then if you wanna develop a public identity as a thought leader, then you want to be incredibly responsible to the idea that you're saying, I will be the one who will do the disciplined work to understand this field.

[00:18:10] Ron Kaufman: To bring about and participate in and invite other people to be in genuine conversations where we will think together. In that the, the society, the community will evolve. And my identity as a thought leader, since that's what this podcast is about, right. Will naturally come about. That's the way people will see us.

[00:18:31] Surbhi Dedhia: Yeah. And, and that brings me to this question about the singular focus. With which you have pursued this field of service and service culture. Mm-hmm um, and, and I think I wanna just stop here and say, how did that occur? Like, how did you stayed so disciplined? I think that's, that's the most important thing to kind of share with others.

[00:18:54] Surbhi Dedhia: Like you can, you can say that you get, you have to be disciplined, but how did over the years did you train yourself to be dedicated to this area 

[00:19:04] Ron Kaufman: well, I was incredibly fortunate when I came to Singapore from the United States, 31 years ago to work on a project. It was a national level project for the country of Singapore to improve the service throughout the nation. So I was involved in the development of the original curriculum for this national training program and then became the master trainer to do train the trainer. But it was the clients that kept showing up from so many different walks of life. So for example, the police force, but also the hospital, the school system, but also the housing board.

[00:19:43] Ron Kaufman: Motorola, but also Singapore airlines Changi airport, but also Raffles hotel. So in each of these different industries or government sectors, it's still all service, but the purpose of the service, the distinctions of the service, the nature of the service, the need for improvement of the service was so diverse.

[00:20:07] Ron Kaufman: That I just found it intellectually fascinating and never really needed to deviate from service as a fundamental theme. Right. Although I did flourish it from service improvement, training principles, tools to say, wait a minute, that's not enough. You also need a service culture, right. And developed expertise in that area.

[00:20:31] Ron Kaufman: And then within that said, hold on. There's a particular role for service leaders. So then whether it was service leaders, whether it was service culture, whether it was service improvement, whether it was for B2C B2B, government service, healthcare service, financial service, medical, It was easy for me to stay in my swim lane because it was more like a 16 lane swimming pool.

[00:20:56] Ron Kaufman: Right. It's just, it was all going in the same direction. 

[00:20:58] Surbhi Dedhia: Yes. Wow. This is interesting and intriguing at the same time, because as we evolve as a human race, I see that there is just so many sublay any sub layers of things that keep developing and it is so easy to get distracted. And especially with the evolving digital technology, you, you can't help, but stay distracted all the time. And if you are aware of this whole discipline, the 16 swim lane, and then know, which is your lane, uh, I think that is a interesting example to follow. 

[00:21:34] Ron Kaufman: And so for your listeners, you know, here's a way to think about. as you say, the options for distraction are voluminous mm-hmm . So a certain discipline will be required to say not that Steven Covey, uh, put it this way that it's easy to say no. When you have a bigger, yes burning inside you. So the question is really, what is it that matters to you? What is it that you really care about and allow yourself to be called in that direction and continue to focus on that, such that what you're focused on and working on is so compelling to you that the other distractions just don't warrant your time anymore.

[00:22:28] Surbhi Dedhia: Okay. Sounds sounds really good. And now, actually, that brings me to an interesting part where I see since I've been following you for so long, I see that there is a shift in your own focus.

[00:22:44] Ron Kaufman: Yes.