I receive a variety of responses when I mention the term Thought Leadership to people in business – from ‘we are already doing it’ to ‘it is just a fad’. However, the most common response is one of confusion about what it means and the benefits it can bring to companies.
Definitions of Thought Leadership
A quick Google search will provide pages of definitions for Thought Leadership. Joel Kurtzman, former editor-in-chief of Strategy and Business, first coined the term in 1994. He said that Thought Leaders are people who possess a distinctively original idea, a unique point of view, or an unprecedented insight into their industry.
One definition that I believe is the most accurate and useful comes from marketing blogger of Symantec and Apple fame, Elise Bauer. She says that Thought Leadership is the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates.
Thought Leadership is the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates.
She goes on to describe the key attributes of a Thought Leader. For her, these include a spirit of generosity, and the ability to communicate with the press, write prolifically, speak often, and build an online presence around key ideas.
When companies do this strategically and effectively there are many benefits.
Benefits of Thought Leadership
The main benefit of Thought Leadership is that it increases the individual’s profile and, by default, their company’s. However, it is not just a professional branding exercise that will influence the status of individuals and the company.
Elevating the profile of selected individuals around what the company wants to be known for has a direct benefit in three main areas.
Becoming increasingly renowned through Thought Leadership has a direct result on increased sales.
As Thought Leaders become more recognised as the experts in their field, their ideas and opinions carry greater weight, allowing them to increase their influence within the industry.
Many Thought Leaders enjoy increased opportunities as their profile becomes better known. This can vary from being invited to speak at events, to interviews for TV or radio, to opportunities to break into new markets.
Identifying your potential Thought Leaders
Potential Thought Leaders are usually seen as subject matter experts, passionate advocates for what they love, or both. In your organisation, they may be the CEO or members of the senior leadership team, but they do not always need to be the most senior people.
Two of the biggest indicators for success as a Thought Leader, are a passion for the chosen subject matter and a commitment to do the work required.
Once a company has identified what they want to be known for, which is in line with their strategic direction, they can then identify the most appropriate people to become Thought Leaders. The next step is to provide the training to help them to capture and develop their thoughts as well as communicate these to a broader market.