Five steps to build thought leadership value
When it comes to buzzwords, “thought leader” is one that divides and riles professionals across the globe.
The term thought leader once conjured up the untouchables — Brené Brown, Simon Sinek, Sheryl Sandberg, etc. Now with over a million people claiming thought leader in their LinkedIn profiles, the tide has turned, making thought leadership more accessible than ever before.
Understanding the power of thought leadership is vital for communications professionals across all industries to drive successful content strategies leveraging key executive leaders in their organizations.
But the real power is a simple mindset shift around who can be a thought leader, unlocking you to access and activate your own thought leadership for your career and life.
Use your expert communications skills and talents to simultaneously build your internal and external reputation, influence and authority that sets you apart amongst your peers and opens doors within your organization, your industry and beyond.
Working with professional experts across the globe to demystify thought leadership and develop successful strategies, I created a powerful five-step “Thought Leadership V.A.L.U.E. Framework” that consistently drives, confidently activates and cleverly supports thought leadership for individuals and organizations.
I shared this framework in an engaging interactive workshop at the IABC World Conference 2022 in New York, shifting how communications professionals in the room now demonstrate their value and elevate their role in advancing their organization's value.
Let’s look at what thought leadership is and who can be a thought leader before diving into this framework, step by step.
What Is Thought Leadership, and Why Does It Matter?
"Thought leadership is expressing thought-provoking ideas from the intersection of your expertise and passion with the power to shift perspectives and influence outcomes. —Nicole Hatherly”
Thought leadership delivers unique and authentic content that leverages the author's insights, expertise, experience and point of view. It can be driven from both an individual and organizational level.
Thought leadership's role is to create value, build knowledge, innovate thinking and take a stand. Its goal is to share wisdom with others rather than simply inform, sell, teach, drive, report or persuade.
When it comes to the ROI of thought leadership, Fortune 100 executives estimate it to be $3.6 million a year in a new study by Harris Poll Thought Leadership Practice.
For communications professionals, it’s vital to incorporate thought leadership content into your broader content strategy. Developed by senior executives, product managers or subject matter experts, thought leadership content establishes brand credibility and authority, strengthens your SEO profile, attracts new clients, converts prospects and retains loyal customers.
A recent SEM Rush survey shared that 65% of organizations already include thought leadership in their content marketing, with 29.5% more planning to start soon.
Who Can Be a Thought Leader?
A thought leader is a notable expert in a specific organization, industry or society. With ideally 10+ years of experience, expertise, insights and perspectives, they’re deemed important enough to openly share their opinions, provide guidance and offer advice while asking for nothing in return.
Although it takes intention, time and effort to build momentum over time, any individual can become a thought leader in their area of expertise, niche or industry.
For organizations that become thought leaders, customers describe them as being more trustworthy and credible.
Can Anyone Call Themselves a Thought Leader?
Speaking globally on thought leadership, this is the most asked question I hear.
The short answer is no.
The term thought leader is used when other people refer to visionary leaders, thought-provoking experts and knowledgeable subject matter experts who offer their opinion.
Generally, thought leader is a title or term bestowed on you, not one used to describe yourself. A thought leader self-declaration can sound egotistical and feel inauthentic.
How to Activate Your Thought Leadership
The “Thought Leadership V.A.L.U.E. Framework” is your compass to design, develop and deliver valuable thought leadership that attracts positive attention, builds trust and grows authority. It creates a solid thought leadership strategy across five vital elements.
Essence of Thought Leadership
Visibility Factor — How Visible Are You?
Thought leadership and high visibility go hand in hand — or else you’re the best-kept secret in your industry. Successful thought leaders are not afraid to lead open discussions or even spark healthy debate on visible and accessible platforms.
Your Visibility Factor is how effectively you build a visible, cohesive online profile and presence that sets you up as an authority in your field to engage with your audience.
An example of a high Visibility Factor is having
- A downloadable speaker’s kit is available
- A robust LinkedIn profile (ideally in Creator Mode)
- A connection to your LinkedIn company page
- An active LinkedIn publishing, posting, liking and commenting schedule
- An active Twitter profile that you personally engage and respond in
- A regular space in your organization’s newsletter and website blog
Altruistic Vision — What Does the World Need From You Right Now?
A challenging yet empowering question, your Altruistic (other-oriented) Vision (insight and outcome) is your “why” that prioritizes your thought leadership.
Ask yourself: “With my expertise, knowledge and experience, what does the world need from me right now, and what thought do I need to lead to effect change?”
Here’s my Altruistic Vision as an example for you to create your own:
What the world needs from me right now is the transformative power of articulating value from communicating personal worth and professional ability to identifying product benefits and organizational qualities. I make a difference for people, teams, businesses and organizations across the globe by aligning their vision, articulating their value and amplifying their voice to achieve their potential, make their impact and create their legacy.
Unique Position — What Is Your Unique POV That Defines Your Thought Leadership?
To be a thought leader, you need a unique point of view that supports your position in your area of expertise.
Ask yourself: “Because of everything I know, what I think is… How I feel is… Where I see we can shift or change is…”
Be flexible enough in your POV to invite other POVs and listen to different positions. The key to being an effective thought leader is not knowing everything and welcoming healthy debate to evolve your thinking.
Leading Authority — What Makes You an Authority or Expert in Your Field or Industry?
Your thought leadership is a collection of your 5 Es — experience, expertise, exposure, education and engagement. They combine into an expert profile that shares your depth and breadth of knowledge, skills and understanding of your audiences' challenges.
Your thought leadership profile is visible across your online platform profiles, at the end of your content articles and blogs, your website and internal intranet, speaking kit, CV, board resume and book cover.
Essence of Thought Leadership — What Is Your Thought Leadership in a Headline?
Your essence effectively communicates your thought leadership in a conversation, elevator pitch, conference keynote headline or podcast guest introduction.
It’s invaluable to “sell in your thought leadership” or introduce yourself without going down the rabbit hole of longer explanations (which I see happen all too often).
Examples range from “an expert in the future of work” or “a leading global authority on sustainable work practices” to “specializing in sharing how tech and innovation are at odds with each other” or “an expert in the inequity of female board position numbers.”
Make it short, punchy and memorable!
Thought leadership has never been more accessible or more needed than now. Building your thought leadership strategy is easy with the framework as your guide.
In a world desperate for guidance and leadership, organizations are embracing the ROI of thought leadership, and more online platforms and media outlets need quality thought leadership to amplify.
Now it’s time to activate your thought leadership to make “shift happen” to better your industry and inspire positive and beneficial change.
Nicole Hatherly is an award-winning global brand strategist, thought leadership specialist, leadership expert, international keynote speaker, multi-industry awards judge, executive coach and board advisor with over 28 years’ experience and expertise in delivering award-winning brand, personal brand, executive leadership and growth strategies for organizations, executives, teams and global thought leaders. Follow Nicole on LinkedIn | Connect with Nicole here.