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How do you define thought leadership?

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How do you define thought leadership?
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Why does everyone want to be a Thought Leader?
It seems everyone wants to be known as a “Thought Leader” these days. Whether you see it as part of the profile description on your website, an asset to enhance your resume, or a skill to endorse on LinkedIn, the volume of business people claiming to be Thought Leaders are on the rise.

The growth of Content Marketing is the fuel that has sparked the popularity of the term. With Google’s adjustment of its search algorithms a while ago, the all-too-easy black or grey hat techniques employed to manipulated site traffic and search engine results to get your brand noticed were rendered ineffective. Google now places value on a steady stream of fresh, original, and dynamic content to be recognized by its search engines.

The irony in this trend is that few people actually aspire to become a “thought leader”. But we are practical people that want to succeed. If becoming a Thought Leader in the context of a well executed Content Marketing plan will unlock powerful lead generation and revenue growth, then thought leaders we become.

Over the years, I’ve known many people that aspired to be motivational speakers, evangelists, or keynote speakers. Most struggled in the early pursuit of the goal. I found out early in my career that aspiring to be a keynote speaker was a flawed plan. I had ideas, but not enough first-hand client experience, war stories, and just plain time to soak in enough learning to make my stories come to life.

Ultimately, I ceased to think about speaking anywhere and just went to work. Only now, after having dedicated 15+ years to the Customer Loyalty industry that serves both consumers and the brands they patronize, do I feel able to fill an hour on a conference agenda and sincerely expect people to walk away feeling informed, that time was well spent and, if I’ve done an exceptional job, inspired.

To be effective as a presenter, writer, or facilitator, you must have an authentic message firmly rooted in your heart, and be able to weave a story that inspires others more than it elevates the speaker.

3 Steps Toward Thought Leadership

Over the years, I have landed on 3 steps that can be practiced to hasten your path to becoming a thought leader in your industry. To make your Content Marketing efforts more effective, dedicate a few minutes to these 3 concepts each morning:

  1. Never stop learning
  2. Remain teachable
  3. Leverage your fears

Never Stop Learning
Will Rogers once said that “even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there”. The take-away is that we should never stop learning. My long time friend and Co-Founder of the Customer Strategy Network, Mike Atkin once characterized consultants that give the business a bad name as the person who “has 1 year experience and has been using it for fifteen years”. You may have a strong resume, but ongoing value is created through a passion for learning and growth, channeled by the desire to serve others.

Remain Teachable
Ego can be ugly and no one is indispensable for extended periods of time. The best team players are normally those considered to be highly teachable. Adopting a modicum of humility opens the mind to accept constructive criticism and protects from the self-delusion that we “know it all”. Most of us have experienced the challenges coexisting with clients and colleagues who are not open to criticism, instruction, or ideas that did not originate in their own head.

Leverage your fears
Fear is powerful and can freeze the human spirit. Fear attempts to convince us of all the things we cannot do. It is a powerful deceiver. I’ve developed a useful discipline that allows me to diagnose fearful people, places, and things in my life and to defuse their power. As an example, if you are afraid of heights, try taking a walk across a highly-slung suspension bridge by foot. Alternatively, if you fear a corporate standard as immutable or long-accepted opinions as unchangeable, maybe you should spend some thought-time to unlock new ways to solve a problem. By routinely identifying things that restrict your thinking, and deciding to tackle them one at a time, you will unlock new intellectual property to benefit your industry – and your career.

What next?
There are many definitions of Thought Leadership which you can find by searching online. It’s a popular subject of discussion and I found one article published by Forbes that covers the subject well. Give it a read here. Aspiring to Thought Leadership is an admirable pursuit as it taps into core elements of our behavioral makeup as human beings. We all have a visceral need to grow, achieve and be recognized. If you continue on the path, be mindful that Thought Leadership cannot be manufactured. If the result is to be authentic, it must be organically grown.

Since the prospect of spending 15+ years developing this skill is not tenable for many, choosing the right Content Marketing partner is critical to bridging over any gaps. Outsourcing to capable writers is not enough. Partnering with people who have the experience and seasoning that only time can yield will put you on the path to success.

Content Marketing will remain a key part of the corporate marketing mix for many years. As the discipline continues to evolve, I am confident this fresh perspective on Thought Leadership will separate those that become recognized as Thought Leaders from those who just publish lots of content. The brands and consumers we serve deserve it.


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