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In defense of thought leadership

Trevor Cook and David Murray skewer the term “thought leadership” on their own blogs.  I agree with their arguments to a point.

Yes – people abuse the term “thought leader” and it can be contrived and meaningless.

That being said, I disagree entirely with the definition of thought leadership as presented.

First of all, thought leaders don’t refer to themselves as thought leaders.

For the same reason, I think it is silly that many marketers are trying to set up blogs or do content marketing because someone told them so. It needs to be about the audience.

Everybody has a website, blog, podcast, some form of content marketing. Making more stuff isn’t the point.

It’s a conversation – a dialog.

When I was in my first job, my manager gave me this simple advice that’s served me my entire career, “just be people with people.”

In other words, be real, be authentic and put your whole self into what you do.

So what is a thought leader?
A thought leader is a recognized authority in one’s field.   Elise Bauer wrote an article on thought leadership that I referenced a while back.

Bauer writes, “What differentiates a thought leader from any other knowledgeable company [or individual] is the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates.”  She continues, “Trust is built on reputation and reputation is generally NOT built on advertising or looking smart.”

I agree.  People have a natural “BS” meter.  We can sense when someone is just trying to sound smart rather than be authentic.  Most of us can recognize a charlatan, one who pontificates about their expertise.  These so-called thought leaders are just trying to edify themselves.

Though leadership goes beyond speaking and writing

Thought leadership is not what you say or write.  It is a way of being.  There are just a select few thought leaders in every industry and field of study.  Thought leaders genuinely influence others by creating, advancing and sharing ideas.  Their objective is to help others.

In sum, thought leaders revolutionize the way others (both inside and outside their companies) do business.

That’s thought leadership.

Bauer concludes, “Become a thought leader in your field, and it won’t matter as much how big you are. Companies and people will look to you for insight and vision. Journalists will quote you, analysts will call you, and websites will link to you.”

Thought leadership is an external assessment based on what others say about you NOT what you say about you.

Is the term “thought leadership” to blame?  No way!  I rather like it.  It is just being overused and abused as a hollow form of self-promotion.

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