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Advice you can take to the bank; how to create a vision that your business and market really buys into

Everybody wants to be a thought leader! In honesty, it’s ridiculous. I’m quite sure most people couldn’t tell you what it even means, they just know they want it.

Thought leadership might very well be the most over used, misunderstood concept in communications. It’s like being the class clown in high school, but for the corporate world. There’s one in every classroom, but he doesn’t know why he acts like the goat except he loves the attention, whether they are laughing with him or at him!

I contest, thought leadership is not about what you say, how you say it, or who you say it to, it’s about why you say it. Think about that for a second. Seriously. If we take one extreme example, idle chit-chat, the most superfluous of conversations; there are certain topics people default back to when going through the motions. It’s small talk but it can say a lot about someone. We discuss the weather. We feign interest in any number of sports, whether we care or not. And we ask… “what do you do for a living?” For me, in the past when I was asked this I used to find it easiest to say I work in marketing. Why? I felt like people generally had a better grip on the role of someone in marketing, than they did communications, or public relations. At least that was the assumption.

In actuality, many people associate marketing with advertising. And, yes, advertising is a part of it, but here’s why you have to be careful when making assumptions and generalisations! Roy Morgan’s Image of Professions Survey 2013 tells us ‘Advertising People’ are actually the second least trusted professionals in Australia, just slightly in front of Car Salesmen. With Doctors being ranked at number two most trusted, I’d almost be better off saying I was a ‘Spin Doctor’. Perhaps not. But, my point is this: trust is a currency, and it is the only way to buy thought leadership credit. Everything you say and do is analysed whether you like it or not, so you have to put some serious thought into why you do and say what you do. In communications it is vital. If you have no credibility, you might as well pack up and go home. The gamut is far and wide – stretching from a Tweet to a Whitepaper, from a job description to keynote address.

So if this trivial example of the most innocuous of conversations can snowball to such a degree, how do we elevate the more serious ones from the casual to the purposeful? How do we build this trust?

Simply put, you can only deliver a purposeful message if you have a purpose. It comes back to the why. Why does what you say need to be said?

It is disruptive: So many comms pros today tell you, “you should write a blog”. Sorry to say, that ain’t thought leadership. What is the test to determine whether it’s worth it? One rule applies – it has to shake up the status quo. Does your blog propose an alternative view to the commonly understood, with a logical argument that isn’t tied back to your product? If it does, you could be onto something.

It creates a new paradigm: Benchmarks are what people and organisations strive for. They only come from innovative thinking and best practice sharing of ideas. I personally believe we are here as a community of professionals to sharpen one another like iron on iron. When you have experienced a new way of working such that the results are bettered, you should fight for a seat at the table to have your voice heard. Being a thought leader always means backing yourself, and sometimes also requires giving up a little competitive advantage to prove it.

It paints a previously unpenned view of the future: If you are a thought leader, you are also a visionary. To lead you have to have a dream. To succeed, you must have a plan to turn your dream into reality. Future gazing is not a luxury for the best operators, it is a necessity. Furthermore, having a vision isn’t being a thought leader unless you put it out there to be challenged by others. Having a thought and later saying, I predicted that (true or not), is not the quality of a leader. Hindsight is at the opposite end of the scale.

It is backed up by evidence: Being a mouth, isn’t being a thought leader. I hate it when people say “everyone has the right to an opinion”. They don’t. Everyone has the right to get educated. Otherwise I’d suggest you are just chasing a headline because your ego compels you to. If you’ve a unique insight, and you have the data to support it, you’re obliged to share it. Be brave. That is what being a thought leader is – being bold, but balanced.

– My name is Aaron Crowther. Follow me on Twitter @ascommstweeter

3 thoughts on “There’s already enough hot air out there – what it really means to be a Thought Leader

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