Thought Leadership

How to become a (genuine) thought leader – NOT a wannabe!

Written by the Editorial Team

This is not a post on the stupendous benefits of being a thought leader – there is a plethora of articles online that can tell you all you need to know about that. Trouble is, few of those articles explain how you can actually become a thought leader and the steps involved. That’s what this piece will do. So let’s get on with it.

  1. Don’t follow the general discussion, lead the discussion

In the immediate post-Brexit vote aftermath, journalists across a range of national, regional and trade publications contacted us. They wanted quotes from our clients on how the UK’s exit from the European Union would impact recruitment and employment prospects across a range of sectors. We duly obliged were appropriate.

A few days later we spoke again with the journalists to thank them for the media opportunity they presented our clients with. All of them, and I mean all, told us they had also spoken to a number of other PR firms who submitted quotes that were pretty much identikit to each other.

They all played the benevolent neutrality card and responded with the fence-sitting line, It’s too early to know for sure what will happen but the situation will be clearer in 12-18 months. No kidding! But what a wishy-washy response – hardly lights one’s flame, does it?

Simply agreeing with what every other Tom, Dick and Harry is a waste of time and energy (and a waste of your money if you are using a PR firm like us!). To be seen and heard above the noise you need to say and do things that are interesting, spark discussion or add a fresh perspective to the debate. In other words, have an opinion.

Be prepared to stick your neck out a little – if you think there’s a chance we’re all doomed and face the prospect of rapid return to the dark days of 2007/08 when the crash came, then say it. Or if Brexit presents new opportunities that could see the UK economy derive greater benefits over the longer term, again, talk about it.

Here’s another example of when to avoid fence-sitting.

If you are a recruitment business owner specialising in locum healthcare roles, don’t jump on the bandwagon of bemoaning the latest figures highlighting the continuing nurse shortage in the NHS – provide a counter argument.

Talk instead about how the RCN has increased the number of training posts available over the last 12 months and the fact that the number of applications for these posts outweighs the number of posts available by 3 to 1 (fact).

  1. Do something different (but be right about it)

Look at your industry and see what you can change to make it better. Understand the nuances felt by those in your sector and develop a solution that seeks to add value where their pain points and needs exist. Think Netflix vs. Blockbuster, iPod vs. MP3, smartphone vs. iPod – even the original game-changers find the game changes them too.

Imagine yourself at one of the recruitment expos and the topic of discussion is How do we attract more women into senior roles within the recruitment industry? Suppose everyone on the panel simply fires off a load of stats here and there, or highlights the problem in other ways, nobody in the audience will gain any value in that because their no solution – whether in part or in full – being offered.

The point is that for every action there needs to be a reaction – a key takeaway that means your audience (clients, candidates, industry peers) has gained something by engaging with you in the first place. AS BC Forbes said, The bargain that yields mutual satisfaction is the only one that is apt to be repeated.

Remember, a thought leader is someone who doesn’t play the game. They change the game.

  1. Back up what you say

Challenge convention, be disruptive, seek out new ways of changing the way the game is played – try them, learn from them and then share your experiences with your peers.

Most important – back up everything you say with facts! Anyone can claim to be a ‘leader’ or the ‘best’ but seriously, how many ‘leaders’ can there possibly be in your industry?

People gravitate towards those who can show how they did what they did and what the results of their actions were.

So substantiate your story with stats, percentages, and monetary values – only then can you gain any true credibility.

  1. Don’t be a bullshi**er – there’s enough of those already

Every industry has those individuals that position themselves as ‘experts’. You know the types – those who say that their “approach” will see you grow your agency beyond your wildest expectations, or whose insights will transform the way you work.

Take a closer look and you will often find these individuals are just that – individuals with zero experience of running a business let alone the ability to build or enhance yours!!

Focus on what you have actually achieved – respect comes from personal experience not through paraphrasing the latest copy of the Harvard Business Review of Forbes magazine.

  1. Don’t aim to become a thought leader – that comes by default

To be regarded as a thought leader is simply the icing on the cake of something that you achieved in your career to date. When you strive to be truly innovative, to do something that no one else is doing, you will find that your peers and competitors will start to mimic and learn from you – they will watch and listen and that by default makes you a thought leader.

Still consider yourself a thought leader? If so then you need to get your name known. Get your message ‘out there’ – here’s how:

  • Write about it  – Write on your own blog, that of your company or contribute as a guest blogger on sites that have influence in your sector.
  • Engage your existing networks – Post an article on LinkedIn Publisher, cross-post it in the key groups of interest.
  • Illustrate your thoughts – A picture paints a thousand words, so illustrate your thoughts in the form of an infographic, SlideShare presentation, online video.
  • Speak to your industry – Approach the organisers of your industry’s leading conferences – are they looking for a guest speaker, could you add to the agenda?
  • Speak to the media – Approach those journalists in the media (trade, print, broadcast) who write about your subject and ‘tell’ them your unique perspective and how it is relevant to a story they will already be familiar with.

Thought leaders earn the respect of their peers and once you become regarded as an industry leader, the exposure you gain for yourself will inadvertently shine a light on your business too.

Above all else, be passionate about your subject: your customers, stakeholders and peers are ‘smart consumers’ and they can spot when someone is faking it a mile off – the only way to capture the attention of your audience is by making a meaningful connection with them.

by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins