Content is King
They say you need three things to be considered a leader. The first is followers to lead. That’s obvious. But how do you get those followers? It’s not only by connecting with them on Twitter or LinkedIn. San Francisco Executive Coach and Leadership Trainer Julien Adler would say, you gain true followers by creating a future that wouldn’t have happened anyway and inspiring them to action.
The second aspect to leadership goes beyond person to person interaction in the boardroom or cubicle. To truly have an impact on your world and make your vision count for something, you have to shout it loud, clear, and often. In today’s media dominated world reporters and outlets are starved for content. The most effective way to express your vision is to develop a variety of angles and share them with at anytime. In PR, we call this thought leadership.
Process of Building Thought Leadership
Let’s face it, we all want to see our opinions expressed on the pages of the Wall Street Journal or New York Times. But thought leadership platforms culminate on those pages, they do not begin there.
Typically, you start with a kernel of an idea, a vision for the future no one else is seeing. Maybe it’s just a small aspect, with the full picture still formulating. Don’t let that stop you from speaking up in the media, at conferences, or on your blog. Your vision by no means needs to be fully developed or perfected. In fact, it’s better if it’s not.
Once your thought leadership idea is formed, make sure you are walking your own talk within your company. This is paramount to your credibility as a leader. Next, look around in the media and in your industry to see if anyone else has expressed your views. If no one is talking about your vision, get out there fast, before someone else does.
If your vision is somewhat already formed in your industry, you will need to differentiate your views from theirs, or “further the story” in some way. If these similar views were expressed years ago, updating them and putting your own spin on them will be pretty straight forward. Even if you have a hard time adding to the ideas already expressed, your perspective on them will always be unique. You might be surprised that your take resonates more with the industry than others who have expressed it previously.
After you have your unique vision, you can start shopping it around in the media and at conferences. My suggestion is to start with small blogs focused on your sector. Use these blogs to pilot test your ideas. Welcome comments that people post, as they will help you to further formulate your arguments for the next round.
Next, publish a few articles and soon you will begin building a reputation for your views. People will start seeing you in a different light and come to you asking you to share your opinions in their pages, or on their stage. At this point, also be prepared for some people to disagree with you. This is a good thing, trust me. More on that below.
Thought leadership isn’t just about writing articles, it’s about speaking on them too. After you have formulated your core vision in blogs and articles, you can start applying for speaking opportunities, assembling panels and offering keynotes. Maybe you even start recording your views in short videos. This is where the one-to-many advantages start to show themselves. Do it right and, rather quickly, people will be asking you for interviews, to speak and to submit for leadership awards.
At Technica, we meet many a CEO who wants to be a big thought leader, but not everyone is cut out for the task. Even if you have a team like Technica helping you to formulate and edit your articles, you still have to add your voice to the finished product. If you are a busy CEO who wants to be a thought leader, set aside time to make it a priority, or deputize others in your firm to help you write the vision or be the authors. PR and marketing people can help you craft your vision and focus group it, but ultimately you have to put your personal style and stamp of approval on it.
Managing the Naysayers
On the other hand, they say if you are making someone angry, you are doing something right. Sometimes to enact true change in an industry, eggs have to be broken and the status quo has to be challenged. Of course, there is a fine line between shaking up an industry and alienating it. The best thought leaders carefully identify that line and walk it. They end up being those who buck the system, challenge the status quo and rise up as visionaries.
Which brings us to the third thing you need to be a successful thought leader, bold fearlessness. Executives commonly utilize this quality expertly to close business deals and engage large partners. However when it comes to putting one’s views out into the world, sometimes people find themselves with cold feet. Some people may feel like the vision isn’t perfect enough to share, or they are concerned with how politicians, regulators or potential customers might react. Some are even concerns about their own image and how they might come across. Each concern carries its own weight and should be thoughtfully considered before the vision is put out.
The benefit is that when people take a stance counter to yours, this gives you new fodder for more thought leadership opportunities. It also gives you more chances to counter arguments and bring even more people into your world view. Us humans love conflict, and such disagreements create great chatter in the social media space, which increases your exposure even more.
Thought leadership platforms, when done consistently over the course of 6 months to a year, have the power to elevate a company and brand above the noise of today’s media landscape. The process starts small and low key, but eventually shines bright on to the radars of top media outlets. The secret is to establish a vision that is unique to you, furthers your business goals and maintains a consistent momentum of exposure. Employ this simple formula and people will be lining up to follow your lead and call you King.