Expand Your Thought Leadership Through Network Intelligence

Daria Tataj, PhD

Recognized expert, World Economic Forum Digital Leader, EU commission adviser, CEO and author of Network IQ Methodology

Expand Your Thought Leadership Through Network Intelligence with Daria Tataj, PhD UPLIFT: Personal Branding and Thought Leadership from A to Z for Leaders & Experienced Professionals

Our main take-aways:

  • Hight network IQ Leaders know how to engage with employees and they understand that to innovate -it’s a job of the entire company, where every single employee is involved and can seize the opportunities fast
  • Thought Leaders are not building EGO-system but building ECOsystem. They are aware that it’s not about them, it’s about Agenda. They know they need to be visible and vocal applying Networking mindset to grow the business
  • As a Leader, especially working digitally, you need to build empathy, mindfulness, & sensitivity to be close to people

Thank you, Daria, for sharing your insights and tips to develop the Network IQ!

If building a powerful personal brand, growing your professional visibility and becoming a though leader are the topics of your interest, please consider following, rating and reviewing our show on Apple Podcasts.

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Podcast Transcript


Thought leadership recognition and acceptance based on knowledge and strong leadership.

We can differentiate thought leader and influencer. For example, we have all those recent phenomena -Instagram influencers, when you have huge followers, based not on your experience and expertise, but rather showcasing your lifestyle.

Thought leadership -expertise and knowledge and thought process applied to get ideas and concepts and then you share it with the public.

You can’t be a thought leader if you just known by your closest or circle of people you interact with daily.  And then capacity of connecting with people and capacity to communicate complex concepts in a simple way – this is as well as quality of a thought leader.

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And we invite Daria also to share her vision of thought leadership area, what is for you thought leader.


First of all, thought leader is a leader. You’re a leader, if you have followers, I would say that this is the most the simplest definition. When I was a professor at business school I was teaching leadership in my students would come with all sorts of definitions who are leaders, they would say a leader is someone who has a vision.

A leader is someone who has a voice leader is someone who has influence. But actually it comes very straightforward down to the fact that you can be an informal leader. So someone extremely capable of mobilizing groups of people, either very important people, and or simply very large groups of people being a leader.

And the way to do it today in the digital economy is foremost through sharing your knowledge and sharing insights and being able to frame this knowledge and these insights in a way that is relevant for people.

Let me give you an example. I know of a business school professor at Harvard Business School professor, she is one of the youngest faculty ever. And she’s very active on Instagram. You know, I’m not a big fan of Instagram and Facebook. And I’m kind of shy, sharing my personal details. Indeed, this kind of strategies work pretty well if you’re a very senior executive, or if you’re a senior professor, if you’re an established consultant, and expert, to use different types of social media that usually people use for promoting their lifestyle and rather building their egosystem.

But she’s very smart in the way she uses Instagram. And her domain is strategy in sport and media industry. And she shows herself with different superstars, from NBA, you know, rugby, boxing to many different personalities. So in a way, she’s spreading her research on new models in the sport industry, in the digital economy, using this kind of personality marketing. And she is a leader and she’s a thought leader, but she’s using her network intelligence, that is the capacities to use all sorts of different network IQ skills, to become to build a strong brand, a very powerful network hat is her eco system. Don’t miss it with egosystem.


Thank you very much, Daria, it was a great addition to this discussion about what the thought leadership is.


Where to start? Thought leadership is to position yourself – find the topics and definitions which are a narrower than your expertise. Expertise can be relatively broad, but what is inside that differentiates you from others? it’s important to approach it strategically. Decide what are the key messages you would like to convey, which would be different from common wisdom, let’s say not being a Wikipedia style, but really your ideas, your original thinking, and something new you would like to share about the topic.

It can be your opinion on the trends or controversial topic.

There are three levels if you’re talking about organisation:

  1. Industry layer, when you are an expert, for example, in strategic procurements or marketing or other type of oil and gas, So industry base knowledge base, and then you communicate that to promote your organisation who, which is the leader in the field.
  2. Layer of organisational thought leadership, this is about the vision, the mission, the culture, how that all blended together, give those extraordinary results.
  3. Product thought leadership, – your expertise showcased in product and services of the company. In this case, you work a lot with consumers to connect the advantage of the product or promote the product expertise to engage them and get their feedback and organise this process of exchanging the information and building the ecosystem by the way that I will explain this later on.

Why it’s important? It’s shows your expert maturity. You are on the fast track to become recognized industry leader beyond your organisation. Becoming a thought leader, opens new opportunities because you involve new people in your circle, not only in terms of what you do, but it can be partnerships, synergies, speaking engagements, and so on.

And if it looks easy, why a few people do it? If you work in an organisation, there are a lot of confusion. Because you need to be clear and distinguish your job title and your positioning, then you need to come up with this formulation for your personal brand. There should be part of personality in it. What are your values, who you are as a person, what causes your supporting and what id your unique value proposition.

There is an imposter syndrome inside that when you think why me? Am I the smartest person in the room to talk about that? Feeling of potential criticism because when you position yourself, you take a bold statement on something. And of course you divide immediately people who would agree and who don’t agree. So this is the downside of that.

Saying something in a straight way that there would be people who are not sharing your points of view. And then when you work for the company, there is a part of brand strategy. So you need to be really well aligned when you talk from your own experience and expertise, how it fits into the company. In this thought leadership process or personal branding, we can define two major parts: First is formulation. You need to spend time to formulate your brand to formulate your thought leadership area positioning and definition. And then when you’re clear on that part of communicating it. Engaging others, build the networks producing content around that to have your followers to have your message spread.


And I will add that many experts, when they think about building their thought leadership, they dive immediately into the face of communication, they start communicating on social media, they start producing content.

And we see from the experience working with our customers and with our students. That many, many experts really miss that part. formulation. But this is equally important, both to formulate to really understand who you are as a person and as a professional, and only then start communicating, because then you will be able to align your communication also, with your inner feeling about yourself with your inner knowledge about yourself as an expert, and professional, and with what your audience actually wants to hear from you.


Yeah, so this is to illustrate to look at thought leadership from the lenses of company interests, in from the lenses of how to promote your own brand and helping your company.

We can imagine the pyramid, when we think about marketing approach. Where underneath is the volume of information and on vertical axe, the impact or the of the marketing effort.

So, underneath you have a brand advertising, all the activities company do to promote company brands. Then, branding and marketing of products and services. Then, there will be solutions and case studies, when you really share with your audience the benefits, “how to cases”, helping educate them and solve their problem.

And then on the top, this is a thought leadership as an expertise in the company, which company shares through thought leaders to help customers, partners get high quality knowledge, research based information and conclusion, which are of their interest.

And on top, the personal brand, where you add your personality in it to increase the engagement. So in this case the whole strategy of marketing have very high impact on perception of the company, promotion of what company does, and this as well, maybe human face of company leaders, which is extremely important nowadays.

Because if we talk about trends, people buy from people so we are not anymore in b2b or b2c type of business. We’re in human to human. Company pages have much less followers than the people ones.

If you think about Richard Branson or Elon Musk, there are always more people following people them vs their companies, because they want to learn about not only about business, but about their personalities, there mistakes and they engage and create the bond and trust in a stronger way versus if it’s only company who is promoting the product and service.


And we are happy to welcome Daria. What is it all about network IQ? What skills do we need in order to network successfully and getting results from our networking now especially in the times when we work mostly remotely and creating our networks online. You’re very welcome, Daria.


Thank you very much, Marina. And thanks, Elena for a great explanation about positioning and the volume and impact, I thought it was very useful.

The way we work with networks, network intelligence is really through development of a competency framework, we all talk about the need to develop skills for the future, the new workplace.

And we all talk the companies today and individuals are disrupted, either by growth opportunities or by really implosion, they are laid off, they are, , forced into self employment, or they are simply, you know, incentivized to start a new career within a company.

But anyway, whichever you are, whether for good or for bad, whether it’s an opportunity or a challenge for you a difficulty, you need to innovate. And this network IQ competency framework is building on five key research blocks.

One is a network theory, because we should realize that we’re all connected. I always say that humans were always connected, right? We are a social animal we always lived in tribes. But what has happened with the network society and digital economy is that we’re connected at an unprecedented scope. And this changes the rules of the game, because leaders and thought leaders who are capable to connect with the large networks have an advantage of over those who focus for the right reasons on the small but high quality network.

So with this network strategy, that is the competence number one, we always talk with leaders and with their teams, what would be the good way for them to build their brand, their identity, their position in their ecosystem. The second building block is about understanding those digital ecosystems and network-based business models.

I liked very much what you said Elena, this human to human sales. This is absolutely true. That today, the brands leverage and benefit most from employee engagement, where employees actually agree to give their brand to the organization by engaging with the company communication posts or with the company official profile.

And sometimes I hear that companies are reluctant to invest in employee’s brand or in building those brand. But what I always advocate and is that if employees can use social media and promote their brand as thought leaders, they will do it anyway if they want to. So if company has a strategy, how to engage those employees and help develop the capacity, then this can increase both company branding, and employee engagement, as well as employee branding. And there is nothing more authentic than human to human sales or human to human communication.

The third element, IQ competency framework is really coming for building dynamic capabilities. And that is the capability to cease, to cense first, to cease and to transform an opportunity, you know, if you have a large network, and if this network is also high quality. And if you have a good clear brand, a trusted brand, probably you have access to dozens or hundreds of different types of opportunities, but the pure fact that you’re connected and the pure fact that you’re co located.

Meeting in the office or meeting at business events, attending virtual events does not mean that you’re able to really sense the opportunity to really be able to understand where the market is going, what are the trends? What are the insights what are the needs. And network IQ competency framework when we develop the purpose network fit, we work with leaders and their teams to understand how to sense these opportunities and how to help each other build those competences. Then the second one is you can sense the opportunity, you can understand what is out there for you.

But really the second challenge is how to seize this opportunity. So how to make sure that you are the one who has access to this opportunity. And I think that here is where personal branding as a thought leader comes in because being a thought leader has has a social capital to it.

It means that you not only have knowledge, but you recognised as a key opinion expert as a key opinion leader on a topic. So people will be trusting that you can give them insight and get insight for yourself as well.

I want to emphasise this dynamic two-side effect of a thought leader. With network hype high network IQ leaders understand that they get what they share. If you don’t share knowledge, if you don’t share insight, most likely people will not share with you.

And this, of course, creates a lot of issues about confidentiality, about intellectual property rights. But this all can be mitigated. The key aspect is about knowing where’s the border, the border line was the limit of what you can share, not to jeopardise your company’s strategy. But still being able to open and drive the discussions and the trends influence the trends.

And the last one is really about ability to try to transform.

And when you look at our competency model, you have the network strategy, the networking is really building those large ties. And engagement is how to be the person with whom people want to build strong ties, you may know that the engagement is really what drives the viewership of your the reach of your of your social media posts, and it really takes time to do it.

So I think that for whether you’re managing innovation, or sales or operations, it’s really strategic time to invest in building your brand in using the networks more strategically.

And then the last element is about working in remote teams and the digital skills for teamwork.I believe that today, there will be in many organisations, the kind of two speed companies.

One element of the company that will be moving fast, being able to sense seize and capture these opportunities through the high network IQ competencies. What do I see also, when we work with different teams? I see that high network IQ leaders are able to drive performance of those teams. I’d often in many traditional businesses, you see that some people work face to face, because their workers, for example, in courier business or mobility business, you need to have people on the ground. And then you have people in the back office who are able to have let’s call it a luxury of being safeguarded against the COVID. And this create ruptures within a company.

High network IQ leaders know how to engage with all sorts of employees and manage those diverse distributed teams. On top of this, they understand that the team is something different than it used to be if they need to innovate.

And as I said, I think today, everyone, every company needs to be innovative. And by innovation, I do not mean an Research and Innovation department, I mean, a company led by a leader who thinks that innovation is the job of the entire company. And then, in this sense, every single employee of the company is, to a certain extent, a sounding board of a top management, or every client can be treated as a co creator of new solutions.

This concept of a distributed team is really part of the network intelligence framework. And then it’s about impact. When we speak about key opinion leaders, we expect that they not only talk, they walk the talk. That they not only are vocal about certain agenda, let’s say public health objectives, or sustainability issues, environmental sustainability, but they also do something to showcase that they are authentically dedicated to this agenda.

And now, our network IQ audits quite often show that people are inconsistent, that they advocate one thing, but actually they believe in another thing, and this creates a break in their personal brand, but also in their position as a key opinion leader.

And then ultimately, I would say that network intelligence, as competencies as digital competencies and competencies for the future, are just skills. You can learn them.

And we believe through the programs that we’ve done with different organisations in Spain, the UK, and the Netherlands. I should have said that we are a startup project coming out of an acceleration program with Johnson and Johnson when we were selected as one of nine women owned startup projects out of 30,000 applications, that we believe that building the strategic in networking skills, and habits of individuals and of teams is absolutely key for innovation, innovation -led growth.

Let me just share an insight and some practical tips from one of the case studies. One of the projects that we delivered over the last year working within a company, which is investing in challenge based projects in deep tech. It’s really about managing their deal flow, it’s about getting the top projects that they can invest in and \ the CEO of Eindhoven engine, I was really concerned how, as a new company, how they can improve their brand, their digital brand, their online brand, to get recognised as a leader, as a thought leader, as a company that is trying to change the future that is trying to source the best tech projects to invest in so that the people who really have idea, ideas and solutions that they also want to get engaged with them.

And the way we worked with them was the first identify the strengths, and what are the opportunities for improvement of individuals and of teams, especially at the middle level management. In many companies, it’s really the middle level of management, that is the key role for innovation and growth.

Then we work with the entire team, on the network strategy, through the networking workshops, to understand what is their purpose, to map their ecosystem, to identify the key people to engage with.

And then finally, to design and implement an engagement strategy. What we saw out out of this program is that they are that they are followership at LinkedIn skyrocketed, and that they really started to get a very different visibility, they became known as a thought leader in their ecosystem.

Now finally, what we look, when we work with companies, it’s really to help them redefine their purpose. We often talk about vision and mission. But you would be surprised how often people repeat or I are not even able to repeat what is the vision or mission of the company. But there is a mismatch between a personal values and personal sense of purpose, and what they’re what people are supposed to do working for a company.

If you want to become a key opinion leader, start with your own team. And my first tip – work on your network strategy on the purpose network fit and we have the we have the process for it. We have tools, helping teams define it and individuals. But it’s really checking if there is a gap if there’s a mismatch, or if there’s an alignment between the personal purpose and the team purpose. If there is a gap, this is fine. Sometimes recognising that there is a gap that there is a mismatch alleviates the tension within a team.

And we know that over 50% or 60% of teams, those teams that need to focus on collaborative tasks lose their perform performance when working remotely because indeed what is lowered is the social connectivity and loosening the social ties makes this strategic misalignment more tacit, people don’t realise that this is the case.

Now my second tip on developing yourself as a key opinion leader is about mapping your ecosystem. And again, thinking about being an influencer or being a key opinion leader, being a thought leader. Sometimes we really bring at the forefront the ego part. We want to be popular, we want to be famous, we want to be known, but in my view and in our methodology on network intelligence is that high network IQ leaders are aware that this is not about their ego, it’s about an agenda.

It’s about what is what is really that they care for. Why do they work beyond having very concrete business performance goals, which will be there anyway, you need to reach your monthly sales, you need to get your quarterly KPIs, but they know that they should position themselves, get connected to and build their network position, and their brand and their digital brand, within a certain ecosystem that they can create.

Let me give you an example. If you’re a, let’s say, a pharmaceutical company, you can focus mainly on getting your products to the market and creating a sales network of representatives getting to relations with the doctors with the hospitals. But what you can also say you can believe that COVID is changing the way health care should be delivered. And then if you’re becoming a vocal advocate of innovation, of medical health care, on accessibility of health care to all to a quality health care, then people start to realise that you’re something bigger than your company that you’re really that you have there is a common denominator, a social agenda, maybe a political agenda, although I don’t, I don’t necessarily recommend this to build your key opinion, position in business.

But the social agenda is extremely important if he and if leaders can map their ecosystem to what extent there is in alignment with this bigger view and their activity. Within the social networks, online or offline, there is an unprecedented growth potential for innovation and for building your position as a key opinion leader.

And then let me comment also on what we have learned when we helped Katya better engage her remote team. First of all, we understood that people when they think about connectivity, they somehow underestimate those close ties, the so called strong ties that are ties with their closest collaborators. And when working digitally, these ties tend to loosen up and don’t under estimate this what I’m saying, because the fact that you’re online all the time with endless Microsoft team meetings or zoom meetings, it does not mean that we’re becoming more connected.

There are different indicators to show that you need to build an empathy, you need to build in mindfulness, you need to build in sensitivity to be close to the people that you’re working with. And to recognise them that engagement is not transactional. It’s not asking about them to do things for you. It’s really asking, what could we do together? And how could I help you that would we together, it makes more sense for you and for me.

Now, the last comment I want to make is about using social media. Because, again, when people go on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram, or any other popular networking platform, people think about those professional reasons, not personal reasons, people usually think about building their position and connections with those millions of people that with whom they are not connected to.

But what is really important is that we should be strategic in how we using the social media, and use them with a purpose in mind. And this kind of looks as back to the first first point I made that to do, to design a powerful network strategy that will allow you to build this dynamic capabilities for your career or for your business.

You need to be able to sense seize and transform opportunities into growth. And the best starting point is really thinking about what is your purpose?


Thank you very much, Daria. It was a great explanation, really, of your methodology, and of all your secrets about purposeful and effective networking.


Yeah. So it’s very insightful. What your sharing, Daria.

I just wanted to ask this clarification question of what is for you a remote team. People often see it as a direct team with whom we work. And you mentioned that in the digital ecosystem is much wider and when it’s challenged the way they think about it.


Sure, Elena. The teamwork is actually one of the most fascinating phenomena now the small group interactions. And when you think of a traditional team, there is always a goal that a team is set up to achieve. And there is always a problem if we can say there was always a plan the work plan, and there are many methods which help optimize how teams work being agile with different sprint type workflows.

But what we observe is that, especially with the current crisis, you need to think about designing your organizational structure in a different way.

Because all the organizations, especially large ones, were designed to optimize costs & time production, the faster the better, dirty programming, but still delivered on time.

Now with the COVID, we realized that the global value chain were so much disrupted, and that this kind of optimization really, you know, really makes companies implode.

And what we’re thinking is that one aspect is to really build redundancy in your teams, to have those extra capabilities. And one way of building those extra capabilities is to connecting the team members with their ecosystem.

So the remote team is not only the team that is able to work online. Today, probably most people are able to work online, we mustered, as a crash course, the digital tools.

But I’m speaking about something different. I’m speaking about the small team dynamics, when you’re connected to a network environment, to this ecosystem, to this digital ecosystem, you’re able to tap on the intelligence of many people that normally thinking about your team with an agile perspective on you would not ever think that they can be valuable for you.

And when we manage uncertainty, then we need to be innovative then we need to be creative. This is valuable to bring in trusted relationships with many more people in your environment, whom you can consider as informal members of your team.

And I think that this informal brings us back to this leadership concept. You can be a leader because on your business card, it says a team leader or a project leader or a company leader, but you can also be a leader because you’re informally recognized for something.

And when we speak about key opinion leaders, quite often these people have unique connections, which are not visible on the official organizational charts. But they would be visible if we if we made the social network analysis, which make them able to tap on on the unlimited intelligence of people who they are directly connected with, or who their connections are connected to.

So to wrap up, Elena, the team, of course, remote means digital. Last year, this was his distinguished element for some teams versus face to face teams. But today, digital, it’s really a norm so when we talk about remote teamwork within the network.

IQ framework is really building on the network science on the small team dynamics, and then those innovation, digital ecosystems research to understand how to open innovation, how to do triple or quadruple innovation across government and businesses.

It’s all about coming to the companies or individuals who can innovate and grow by building their network intelligence to seize two cents seize and transform opportunities into growth.


Thank you Daria for this great interview and your valuable insights!

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