This last year was a doozy and most of the C-Suite executives I know hunkered down, just trying to keep the job they have and keep their teams and companies on track. But with vaccine access becoming widespread, it feels like hope is (finally) on the horizon.

And with that hope comes a new focus on … what’s next? You may be asking yourself should I position myself for a new, bigger role in my existing company, look for better opportunities elsewhere, or is it time to jump out and start my own consulting business in the next 12-18 months (or sooner)?

If you’re beginning to think about your next step, then let me give you a little advice…it’s time to invest in thought leadership.

No matter what you’ve been busy doing in the last year, I’m betting it was not building your profile, sharing your ideas widely, creating a broader base of followers, or documenting and codifying your expertise. And yet, each of these efforts will help you attract potential employers or future clients to your door.

Wouldn’t it be nice if people found you – exactly the people who you most want to work with — and they came knocking on your door? Wouldn’t it be great to have people clamoring for your services before you even set out your shingle? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the next opportunity in your existing company presented itself because you positioned yourself as the obvious right person to fill that spot?

So, how do you get started?

Here are 3 steps you can take right now that will position you for what’s next.

Tell the Bigger Story

I have looked at hundreds of LinkedIn profiles in my career and I am almost always disappointed at the opportunities missed in this personal profile. Rather than simply listing all the places you’ve worked or the roles you’ve held, why not use this space to tell your story in a way that’s compelling and exciting and gets people to want to engage with you? Here are some phrases to get you started:

“Over the last XX years, I have been committed to transforming XX role/industry… by doing XX.”

“I have dedicated my career to bringing about XX.”

“I believe…” (what do you believe should be possible in your field?)

Use Your Bully Pulpit

If you’re in a C-Suite role (or almost there), you often have an opportunity to be heard that you would not have otherwise. Say yes to opportunities to speak, write, create videos or otherwise position yourself as an expert. If those opportunities are not coming to you, put up your hand – with your marketing/PR folks, with your industry association, with your alma mater. This is the time to begin testing your ideas with a variety of audiences to see what gets people excited and what falls flat. Look for or create settings where you can become better known for the expertise you want to use in your next role or for the ideas you have about the future.

Document What You Know

As I learned when writing my book, Ready to Be a Thought Leader?, the essential difference between a leader and a thought leader is the latter’s ability to codify their lessons learned in a way that allows others to build on what they’ve accomplished. Think about the things you’ve learned to do during your career – is there a way to create a toolkit, playbook, visual framework, infographic, or other documentation that lets others learn from you? This is particularly relevant for those who want to create their own consulting practice as their next step.

As an added bonus, when you can distill all of your years of experience into a shareable format, you are also much better prepared for interview questions or selling yourself as a trusted advisor. And, you may find you have the makings of a book, which is something I’ll talk about in another post.

In the meantime, don’t get overwhelmed by all of these ideas. Start with an hour/week over the next few weeks and begin investing in yourself and the future you envision. It’s time to both believe in and prepare for that future.