How To Do Thought Leadership, and How Not To.

Thought leadership: the term has been discussed, defined, dissected and generally thrown about so often that one could conclude that it was just a now-stale trend. However, the fact is that thought leadership is still quite relevant, especially if you’re a C-level exec with a desire to firmly establish your brand as a leader in your industry.

When done correctly, thought leadership content provides benefits for both the writers and the readers. The trick is not forgetting the latter in pursuit of the former.

What Exactly Is Thought Leadership?

At this point, it would be useful to get into what exactly thought leadership means. On one level, it’s being the one to present ideas that influence and disrupt established ideas. Most human beings are programmed to only retain enough information to make important decisions from day to day while our subconscious mind runs everything else automatically. Thought leadership shakes up our auto-pilot tendencies to present a new way of doing things. It’s when people introduce ideas into the public realm that have the potential of changing the way society does things.

Some prominent examples of this include Einstein’s theory of relativity. The moon race. The Emancipation Proclamation. Each of these events opened up possibilities as to what was possible and spurred new ways of thinking that changed what normalcy looked like to members of the society.

When you apply this to the corporate world, the rules still apply (albeit, on a smaller scale). When leadership has something valuable to share, their status gives them a valuable platform to use in dispensing their knowledge. These ideas can have the potential to shape the future of their fields, and even the workforce as a whole.

The problem we face now is that the thought leadership arena is overcrowded. As more and more leaders enter this arena, ideas get muddled together, rehashed, and become a part of the noise.

True Thought Leadership

When thought leadership is executed effectively—meaning a truly unique and insightful idea stated with adept storytelling and distributed efficiently on relevant platforms— everybody wins. Readers gain insight that’s valuable in their field and career, and the author gains notoriety for truly being a “thought leader.”

In the professional world, there are examples a plenty of smart, forward-looking content that has changed the way people think. Hubspot has become an online giant by introducing a unique marketing strategy and offering free courses and reports to education professionals the world over. Burning Glass Technologies produces highly valuable job market research reports that are even more detailed than those made public by the U.S government. Influence & Co. CEO Drew McLellan produces the podcast “Build a Better Agency,” which offers golden marketing insights for seasoned professionals.

Of course, none of the above got to be known as thought leaders simple by producing content for the heck of it. If you want to create something around an original, game-changing idea, you have to have that idea first.

As the potential authors of thought leadership content, it falls upon the C-Suite professional to decide which are there thoughts are just okay, and which have “leadership” written all over them. The secret the discerning the difference is to look at what’s worked in the past. What ideas have really struck a chord with your intended audience in the past year or two? Check out the influencers on LinkedIn and see if you can find common patterns. What are the top influencers in your industry talking about? What makes them influential? What topics do they avoid? Do you have anything substantial to add to the conversation?

Perhaps more important than producing impact content is not publishing a hastily thrown together article that an intern wrote based on whatever was trending on Google. This isn’t thought leadership. It only shows that you have no respect for the reader’s time and no desire to help solve anything.

Above all, think about that special magic that only you possess, the one that has made you successful to begin with. When you lead with your authentic voice, you cut through all the generic online noise. Just look how popular Seth Godin has become with his short, conversational blog posts. It’s something unique to his name. So find out what your “groove” is and showcase it in a way best puts it on display, be it a podcast, video, or itty bitty blog posts.

The digital age offers more opportunities than ever to offer insight and be insightful. You have the power to share great, insightful things about the business you’re in. Just remember, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you’re doing actual thought leadership, or just promoting yourself like a thousand others.

Did you know that I can help you produce insightful, engaging thought leadership content? Contact me to find out more.

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