September 2009: Some Thoughts About Thought Leadership…
…and its Profound Impact on the Success of Your Brand
Thought leadership is achieved when you (or your business) attain status … as the industry guru, the go-to person, a pioneer, an authority; the best-in-breed in the eyes of your peers, your customers, and target audience.
Thought leadership represents mastery in your area of expertise, authenticated by a willingness to speak openly and confidently on your knowledge area, increasing levels of recognition, a proven track record of creating solutions, and the active role you play as you take your industry, and the customers served by it, to a higher level.
Thought leadership drives new business opportunity.
You know you’ve achieved “Thought Leader” status when prospects stop asking, “How much does it cost?” and start asking “How quickly can I get it?” When people you’ve never met, know you, your company, and exactly how you deliver unique value. When you don’t have to chase the business; the business chases you.
You Can’t Fake Thought Leadership.
The “Charlatans” are out there, and are easy to spot. They preach last year’s news, without knowing what’s happening in their industry today. They’re long on “book smarts” but short on “street smarts.” They readily point to problems, with no substantive solutions in sight. They make you feel dumb, instead of empowering you with knowledge.
There are Thought Leaders… and the Rest of the Pack.
We are a time-starved tread-mill nation, moving faster by the day. The information is out there, but there’s so darn much of it, and we rarely have time to sift through it all. So who do we turn to when searching for solutions? We go straight to the Thought Leaders, those we perceive as proven experts, the ones with the answers we need, and need quickly.
Becoming a Thought Leader.
Here’s the bad news: You can’t become a Thought Leader overnight. It takes time, repetition and steadfast dedication. Here’s the good news: Thanks to technology, you can start building your reputation as a Thought Leader right now. Here’s how:
Focus: It’s a time-worn expression, but appropriate: “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Try to cover too many areas, or too broad a category, and you will fail. Pick one area to build your knowledge base upon. As you narrow your focus, you will broaden your appeal. You will also move more swiftly to achieving recognition as all your efforts will be channeled into a singular discipline, enabling more insightful and meaningful levels of conversation. Claiming “expertise” in multiple or diverse subjects is just not credible.
Fearless: Thought Leaders don’t tiptoe around issues, especially controversial ones. They take a stand and have a position, for better or worse. As technology enables your audience to quickly and candidly respond, you will get feedback. Some will vocally embrace your insights and ideas. Some will bash you. But the worst case scenario is no response, often an indicator that you’re playing it way too safe. Stop hugging the trunk and get out on the limb. That’s where the Thought Leaders live.
Actionable: There are numerous communications tools that help establish Thought Leader status: articles, newsletters, books, blogs and micro-blogs, speaking engagements, social media, round-tables, workshops, video, to name a few. Don’t try to do it all. Pick the tools that you are most comfortable with, and execute those with excellence. Use fewer tactics, but deploy your commentary with more regularity and more substance. Don’t have “the blog” that was last posted to six months ago (I’m guilty on that one, I confess). Do have “the monthly column” everyone loves to read (and actively debate).
Support: They might not readily admit it, but behind every Thought Leader is a support network, whether an internal team or an external resource, that helps them with crafting and refining content, staying on message, deploying communications, and giving ideas visual substance. You don’t have to go it alone.
Commitment: If you truly desire Thought Leader status, you – and your business – must acknowledge that getting there is a process, not an event. You can’t write a handful of articles and call it a day. You can’t deliver two or three talks, sit back, and wait for the phone to ring. One mention in the Journal won’t get you there either. It’s the continuous creation and deployment of insights, ideas, and solutions that, over time, brings Thought Leader recognition.