Thought leadership, the tired and often misunderstood cliché used by far too many CMOs and PR people, is getting a bad rap.
It's become too broad a brushstroke for people who share their thoughts about trends, breakthroughs and concerns inside and outside their field, with a view to position themselves as authorities on a subject.
The modern business landscape has helped bastardise it by thinking up so-called thought leaders who simply don't boast the time in the trenches to support the leader label. Thus, thought leadership has lost its edge.
Done right, and with an open and honest intent to add value, delivering your thoughts in masterfully told stories that are valuable, useful and inspiring to readers can help you build trust with the people. Just don't call it thought leadership.
However, in these noisy times thought leadership has been popularised as another content marketing strategy and that's the issue. I've seen too many websites with a "THOUGHT LEADERSHIP" button cruelly strapped to the top navigation bar between FAQs and Contact Us; in this instance my gripes are validated.
What should be an exercise in contributing sincere knowledge for the greater good has become the operative words of Web 2.0 marketers hellbent on building brand equity.
The problem with using the words 'thought leadership' so liberally is that it speaks directly to people prone to hashing something out in the name of "having some wordy thoughts about something clever". Authenticity is MIA and thought leadership ends up in the same meaningless puddle "being a ninja" and "going viral" swims in.
I can picture a Trump campaign manager ordering a minion to, "quickly do some thought leadership about the faults of the trans-pacific partnership."
When thoughts are manufactured from an explicit desire to lead, their propensity to inspire and influence people diminish. In this case, you might as well call it "my infinite wisdom" than thought leadership.
Notwithstanding my cynicism, there's no denying the value well-articulated thoughts can add to the fluid business literary scene. Some of the most thought-provoking articles I've read have been from ordinary people, freely available on platforms such as LinkedIn and Medium. I've found unique perspectives that I can't find in traditional formats.
The social web has levelled the playing field and anyone with Internet access can waffle on for as long as they please.
The social web has levelled the playing field and anyone with Internet access can waffle on for as long as they please. Like Seth Godin, some build big audiences by mastering the art of storytelling and are proven leaders. On the flipside, many neophytes struggle to articulate their thoughts in their haste to build a personal brand; settling for a corporate reach around and referring to themselves as thought leaders.
If you have an urge to pen your thoughts and broadcast them en masse then here's a few tips to get you started.
Firstly, if you have a thought leadership strategy, re-examine it.
Do not call it thought leadership. If you must, do it behind closed doors.
Ask yourself if you have anything to say. If not, don't conjure up something to say. The desire to do thought leadership should be driven by a great idea; not by the will to do thought leadership.
If you have something to say, then apply your mind to how you can formulate your thoughts in a way that is easily understood and enjoyable for the recipient. Some of the best inside perspectives I've read have been in a well-versed narrative that introduces eureka concepts in simple language.
Find your voice. Then develop it by practicing and writing more. Get feedback and be critical. Be dogged not in the pursuit of followers, but in the search of a style that is true to you.
Be honest. Some of the best stories I've read have been anecdotal. Leveraging real-life memories and experiences will help you move your readers and connect with them. Hurriedly hammering out a body of work will result in multiple broken limbs.
Above all, find other words for thought leadership.
The self-appointed leader of thought is dead.
Long live the everyman – a committed custodian of bright ideas, innovation, thinking and sharing.