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How to excel at thought leadership

In marketing content is King. For business development it’s thought leadership that is the real prize. However, with so much content flying around, how do you stand out from the crowd?

Why is thought leadership important NOW?

Professionals strive to be trusted advisors to their clients. Thought leaders attract followers who want to listen to them and who trust them. The two go hand in hand. Recent research (quoted in Forbes) found that in a survey of more than 1,200 business leaders, 58% said they spent more than one or more hours a week reading thought leadership content. Thought leadership helps establish and build trusted relationships.

As we enter a future that is increasingly uncertain, where there are big topics to deal with – the impact of Covid, the future of work, climate change, to name but a few – the world needs thought leaders.

Clients need advisors who can provide them with insight that can help them navigate this uncertainty.

What is thought leadership?

The Oxford dictionary definition of thought leadership is “the practice of developing important new ways of thinking that influence others”. A thought leader is defined as “a person whose views on a subject are important and have a strong influence”.

There are two important things to think about here:

  1. New ways of thinking

  2. Influence

New ways of thinking in thought leadership

New ways of thinking is what makes thought leadership so hard to achieve and why so many fall at the first hurdle. Writing articles telling the reader what they already know – or what they could read elsewhere - is not thought leadership, regardless of who is writing it. It might work for SEO, it might show that you know your subject, it won’t turn you into a thought leader.

With so much already written about, how do you achieve new ways of thinking? It is important to note that new ways of thinking is not the same as a new idea. It might be a new way of thinking about an existing problem. It might be a new way of applying existing thinking. It is about having a point of view and not sitting on the fence. Advisors are well placed to do this. They are talking to different clients, often from a range of sectors, who approach things differently. Something that adds value to those clients is the wide-angled perspective that advisors bring. The ability to join the dots.

Not having a point of view is where so many advisors fail and why not all advisors are thought leaders. Often commissioned thought leaderships falls over by failing to offer new insight. Why? Fear.

Having a point of view means opening yourself up to criticism. Ironically, healthy debate is a sign that you have created a piece of thought leadership, it is always what gets in the way of its creation. This is perhaps why, when thinking about thought leadership, it isn’t enough to focus on how to write – you also need to focus on the human side and think about the barriers and limiting believes preventing you from achieving your aims.

Influence and thought leadership

Influence is a key leadership skill and one that we are often asked to teach. Influence, like so many other leadership skills, is something that can be taught. Influence can be thought of actions that affect the character or behaviour of others.

If we think about how we might measure the success of thought leadership we can get some insight into why influence is important in the context of thought leadership. Engagement is undoubtedly a key measure of success. Where written pieces of content or videos are online or digital, engagement can be measured in a number of ways such as the number of views, or downloads, or clicks. These are important metrics for a number of reasons. One of those being that it shows that the topic is of interest to the audience. It also indicates that the readers or listeners of the content are learning more about you as an individual and your firm.

A second measure of success is the engagement happening in the real world. For example, the number of conversations happening as a result of, or off the back of, thought leadership content. Some of these conversations will lead to new client relationships. They might expand existing relationships. Conversations will also help further cement existing relationships too.

As we look to influence our stakeholders it is important that we understand how we are influenced and how we influence.

So, how do you stand out from the crowd?

First, you recognise what it is that you want to achieve. If you want to be a thought leader, think about why it is important to you. What will success look like for you? Is this about enhancing your personal brand or the firm’s reputation? Maybe it’s both.

Next, understand that this comes with some risk. How do you feel about that? How can you reframe and work with that emotion?

Being a thought leader is about having a point of view. It is that point of view which will help you stand out from the crowd. Read, listen, observe. Think about how many pieces of content you come across truly tick the “new ways of thinking” box. I suspect you will find that outside of your “go-to” sources (HBR, Forbes, The Economist…) much of the content you see doesn’t. That is why it is both easy (and hard) to achieve your goal!

To find out more about we can help you on your thought leadership journey through training and coaching, get in touch.



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