Lessons from Linkedin; the difference between leading a conversation and passive involvement is relational positioning, it’s inspired thinking worth applying 

A philosopher of ancient China named Lao Tzu once said, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves”. I’ve had it put to me by a leader I’ve worked under as “the greatest skill in leadership is making people think your ideas are theirs”. In either case, it’s an interesting thing to ponder – a leader swims like a duck, on the surface calm, composed – effortlessly moving through the water, while beneath the surface their legs paddle and pump like a steam-engine.

This illustration, or observation, implants in my mind the tension between being in a conversation and leading one – the dynamics of which stem from passive versus active contribution. One company that is mastering this dialogue perfectly is Linkedin. Much of what its leader, CEO Jeff Weiner, is currently talking about is capitalising on the untapped job market – passive job seekers, ones that might be convinced to leave, but for the most part, are head down, bum up, working their socks off where they currently are. Linkedin estimates it has quintupled the size of the candidate pool from which employers can hire, saying 79 per cent of its 259 million members around the world are passive candidates. In effect, it has created a new market.

The flipside of this coin is however, convincing this 205 million pool of potentials to make a move – and herein lies the genius! Linkedin’s burgeoning content engine – ‘Pulse’, born from active content creators, has as its premise – to cherry-pick relevant original material and share it with its members, as one might place cheese on a mousetrap. With content marketing becoming more predominant, the task of crafting genuine material is the CMO’s panacea. It’s a lofty goal, increasingly difficult to attain as more and more brands wrestle over the leadership of conversations that centre on the latest trend or hashtag. The fear of not leading, being – becoming a bit player, or white noise, in other words – one who simply pushes content around, instead of organically generating it. This is what I call ‘passive content curation’. More aptly put, “You’re not the first to think that, everything has been thought before” – as written by Something for Kate front-man Paul Dempsey.

Subsequently, leading conversations, or better still – owning them like Linkedin is doing, is where the greatest skill in leadership manifests – production of content so compelling you attract the best (passive) talent by inspiring them to dream of what could be, should they make the move.

So, what’s the lesson in this for you and me? Today, if you want to lead, realise:

Content creators are experts: You can’t just make someone responsible for content creation. If you want material that makes a difference, you must invest in the right people to create it.

Content strategy matters: It’s not good enough to share links to articles and studies, you have to invest in original thinking and creation of material that others can consume. Most importantly – you MUST have a methodology for its dissemination.

Content strategists and content creators aren’t necessarily the same thing: There is a difference between a publisher and a journalist in traditional media and so there is for content marketing. It’s highly likely you’ll need a team to do it well. If you don’t have the budget for an appropriate headcount, you should look to leverage a forward thinking agency.

Now is the time to act: I predict there will be a talent shortage in the next 18 months when it comes to getting the right Comms Pros on your team. You need to lock an agency in sooner rather than later, or run the risk of being conflicted out. Make no mistake, this is a marketing revolution, so you’re not in a position to sit back and see how it plays out.

Acclaimed management guru Tom Peters puts it this way “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders”. That’s certainly the case for Linkedin. How about for you?

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

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