Thought leadership offers tremendous benefits to individuals and organizations.
It helps individuals develop reputations as industry experts, build stronger relations with other industry leaders and authorities, and leads to shorter sales cycles and longer customer lifetime value for their organizations.
But in the pursuit of this coveted title, many people do things that go against the ethos of thought leadership. All this means that they don’t just fail to achieve the position they strive hard for; they also lose respect in their field.
If you want to pursue thought leadership, here are five things you must avoid at all costs:
1. Talking in Vacuum
Many people assume that what matters to them also matters to their audience and that sharing ideas on such topics will position them as thought leaders. But thought leadership is not about expecting your audience to care about what matters to you. It’s the other way around.
Your customers, partners, and peers have their own pressing questions and challenges. They’re looking for answers, and for people with the answers.
Genuine thought leaders define and share clear messages that are relevant to their audience. When they address their audience’s most pressing questions, they succeed in making people subscribe to their perspectives, thus laying the foundation for long-term thought leadership.
2. Self Promotion
The most common mistake people make is to assume that self-promotion is synonymous with thought leadership. “We’re industry leaders at what we do. Want us to solve your problem? Connect with us. Don’t want to connect with us? Find your answer elsewhere!”
In all this, they miss the most crucial aspect of thought leadership: value. Value is the intersection of what people need and what you offer.
In thought leadership, value means enabling your audience to solve their own problems without hidden business agendas. It means freely sharing actionable viewpoints that your audience can apply on topics that apply to them.
Authentic thought leaders focus less on their own image and more on adding value to their audience. As a result, they build a personal brand of trustworthiness which is far more effective than self-promotion.
3. Mindlessly Sharing Content
We’re drowning in a deluge of content today. Over 90% of the content gets single digit engagement. Ann Handley, the founder of MarketingProfs, calls this a state of “infobesity.” And in the pursuit of “thought leadership”, people are adding to this infobesity.
Thought leadership is not about quantity, but quality. It’s not about simply stating facts or rehashing content, but about telling your audience why they should care.
Genuine thought leaders share unique insights with context, often from personal experience, with their audience. These insights spur their audience into action that benefits the latter.
4. Declaring themselves as Thought Leaders
Time and again, I’ve heard people say, “I’m already a thought leader, I just have to show it to others.”
They think that having a unique opinion makes them a thought leader. But just having a unique opinion is not enough. If it doesn’t resonate with your audience, your perspective is as useless as a single squat to a gym body.
You can’t call yourself a thought leader, just like an employee can’t call himself the best in the organization. Thought leadership is a title your audience bestows upon you, just like an organization awards an employee for being the performer of the quarter.
Engagement is an effective indication of how useful your insights are for your audience. In the short term, it’s how much engagement your thoughts receive. In the long term, it’s how your perspectives impact your community’s behavior.
5. Not Walking the Talk
Many individuals give sage advice on what their audience should do but flounder at applying it themselves. Such individuals also go into denial mode when their ideas get challenged.
Leaders can no longer say, “do what I say, not what I do.” Their actions speak louder than their words. Just like that, thought leaders can no longer share idealistic thoughts and expect others to follow them without practicing the ideas themselves.
Such people run the risk of being called “fake,” thus compromising on their own integrity. Craig Muraskin, MD of Deloitte Innovations, wrote,
“If a firm’s published thought leadership is not aligned with its offerings, not only is the content it produces a waste of time but it also risks alienating customers.”
Authentic thought leaders use personal experiences and practices to demonstrate expertise. They do not sound like who people place themselves on a pedestal. Instead, their perspectives show that they are human beings who understand the world and can help it evolve.
Like every business term that turns into a buzzword, thought leadership has become misunderstood today. That’s why it’s also earning a bad rep. But not because the concept itself is flawed.
Thought leadership doesn’t offer a quick win. It takes a lot of effort to build. But done right, it yields amazing long-term rewards for both the leader and the audience.
Thought leaders drive conversations instead of being mere contributors to them. Through their views, thought leaders enable their organizations to go beyond “me-too” product discussions to engage buyers at strategic levels. These views also empower their audience to solve their own problems and become part of a community.