Over the last couple of decades, there has been an evolving phrase, especially in the speaking industry, which ranges from public speaking events to online programs and engagements; this new term has not left the lips of many. The phrase is 'Thought Leadership.' Some of us are more than eager to understand what "thought leadership" means. So, we will discuss its origin, why we have 'thought leadership,' factors that lead to the success or failure of 'thought leadership' and many more questions that will be answered in this article. It would be a ride through the necessities for anyone desirous to become a thought leader and how they can successfully pitch their tent and shine.
What is thought leadership?
It should be of worthy note that this term originated from Joel Kurtzman, the founding editor of Strategy and Business Magazine. He describes a thought leader as a person who is recognized by peers, customers, and industry experts as someone who deeply understands their business, the needs of their customers, and the broader marketplace in which they operate. He further explained that a thought leader has peculiar ideas that stand out and does not sit and watch just as an onlooker but actively participates in pushing the industry he works to greater heights.
Considering the definition above, it would not be out of place to define this concept in my own words. A thought leader is a professional with complete knowledge and awareness about a specific industry; their knowledge includes the target clients for such industry and even their competitors. They then share their skill with a larger crowd to educate and advance the course of such an industry.
Can anyone become a thought leader?
I am sure some thoughts are running through our minds right now: "I would like to become a thought leader, but I'm not confident whether I can." Do not worry; forget the doubt! The good news is anyone can become a thought leader, especially speakers! Although obstacles are inevitable, an essential ingredient to becoming a thought leader is beyond the superficial. It has to do with our minds more than with our bodies; it is the desire to be people's driving force and care for them!
Extensive experience and desire are the requirements for becoming a successful leader. Experience has, over time, proven to be the best teacher as knowledge gained and experience is better taught and explained. Whatever field one specializes in, one can inarguably confirm that the more experienced one is, the more conviction one would be able to give out to one's audience.
Some would ask the question, why is experience essential? Well:
- Experience breeds understanding
It cannot be over-emphasized that the more problems one has solved, the more knowledge about such a problem would make one better understand the pros and cons of such a situation. Also, nobody likes to give a chance to novelty; experience overrides inexperience every time, as only those with this experience would be perceived as a reference point.
- Understanding is the bedrock of relatability.
Once your audience knows and fully grasps that you have walked this phase quite sometimes, you gain their trust because they can relate with you and trust you with their business and even personal life. An expert gains expertise through experience, and only experts' content would be considered valuable.
Thought leadership and speaking; any relationship?
You would recall that when we mentioned thought leadership, we discussed it in the context of speaking. What relationship, then, does it have with speaking? We as speakers should fully understand what relationship it has to do with our speaking at events. While it is possible to become a thought leader without actively participating in speaking, a vast populace of thought leaders speaks. The reason is not far-fetched, and it is due to the exposure gained from speaking at events.
What leads to the failure of thought leadership?
While many thought leaders change the course of the industries they work for, some fail. As speakers who would not want to fail, we will consider the pitfalls, so we do not make the same mistakes. Here are common practices that caused many to fail:
- Putting into consideration their desire over and above the desire of the audience.
As a speaker, the focus should be on the audience, not oneself. A thought leader should listen to and answer his audience's questions, ask them about their struggles and provide a solution. A thought leader is there for his audience.
- Producing content that is too vague
A speaker's content should focus on the needs of one's audience and potential audience. Such content should be very precise and not too broad.
- Thought leaders who failed to drive their audience to action.
Aside from proving one's expertise to an audience, one should be their driving force, the guidance and light that your audience needs, and a perfect solution provider.
How do I become a successful thought leader?
There are two sides to a coin, and I'm confident we would be more excited about this side of it. There are specific skills that one requires that would help a thought leader rule their world, and they include;
- Deal with specifics
A thought leader should not be too vague while addressing his audience. Be specific and choose your focus industry. Specialization produces expertise, and expertise produces excellent quality! You cannot deal with every audience, pick your target and stick to them. Consider where your experience lies and go for it.
- Spell out your value.
When you are done choosing your area of specialization and particular audience, spell out precisely what you stand for. Ensure your message is clear. You may want to ask, what exactly should I spell out?
- Your vision statements
- Mission statement
In all these areas, carefully communicate your intentions in clear terms. Be consistent, and do not compromise the standard of your brand for any reason. State in clear terms, as gray areas do not attract followers; only clear terms do!
- Avoid self-promotion; focus on your audience.
Write content for your clients and not you. Do not talk too much about yourself; otherwise, you will lose your audience's attention. Drawing a conclusion from these statistics, of 350 executives, 80% of thought leaders who promoted their clients succeeded, while 53% of thought leaders failed because their focus was self-promotion.
- Pursue positivity in all aspects of thought leadership
The goal is to focus on your audience and keep things positive. In many businesses, the executives in charge consider their employees' positive performance and poor performance. Though this is not inherently a bad idea because it is balanced, it is necessary to note that emphasizing the negative aspect would, in the long run, affect one's productivity and slow down teamwork. With thought leadership, the theme is to drive the audience to positive growth, and the focus should be the same.
- Contribute your content to channels within your focus space
In terms of content, another element necessary to become a successful thought leader is to support other industry leaders. Initially, the goal may be to outshine others, but as one advance, one realizes that the more value one can add to existing circles in the industry, the more ground one would gain.
- Create content for your own audience
Create content for your audience, and this content should be original, well-detailed, and valuable. The more valuable your content is, the more likely you will succeed.
However, if you are getting to become a content creator as a thought leader, here are specific steps to take;
- Your content should specifically answer questions of the audience of your focus industry.
- Maximize your content for search engines.
- Be creative.
- Learn from your audience!
Due to the growth of thought leadership, competition has dramatically increased. Regardless of the qualifications and experience, potential clients would exactly want to know what makes you stand out. Give them a reason, and learn from them. As a speaker, you are answerable to your audience, monitor their response to your articles and discussions, check through the comments, discover controversial topics, and draw attention from far and wide. In a similar light, do self-study. Simple comparisons about what is working and what is not, where you are coming from, and where you are. These and many more would not hurt but help keep your hands on deck.
In the end, establishing your voice and dominance is a long-time goal that requires time, effort, and dedication, whether as an experienced speaker or even a new one. Hopefully, as you build or decide to build, this article successfully provides building blocks and helps roll the ball for you and your brand.