Organizations such as American Express, Clear-Point Strategy and Thought Leaders International recognize the contributions and value of innovative thought leadership. Not surprisingly, everyone has a different opinion about who should be on the list. And, of course, like everything else, thought leaders are subject to change over time. What’s important, however, is that all of the individuals noted on these lists captivate, inspire and challenge others.
What are Thought Leaders?
Thought leaders are individuals from any walk of life, with any title, who pursue unconventional ideas and paths. As a result, they influence the current and future direction of business and society. Anyone can become a thought leader, but most leaders are not. It’s much easier to read what has been written by others, determine what is valuable and applicable and then implement it. On the other hand, thought leadership is proactive. It creates a catalyst for change. It requires deep, cutting-edge, and innovative thinking. Thought leadership means looking at the world differently and using visionary skills to predict or foresee the future. It takes energy, effort, insightfulness and, yes, even a willingness to risk being wrong.
As a result of their recognition, thought leaders are likely to achieve a celebrated status, regardless of their industry or area of expertise. Often they are called upon to share their opinions in the form of quotes or interviews, provide or receive endorsements as well as garner other forms of public acknowledgement for their knowledge and insights.
The Benefits of Thought Leadership
Whether intentional or serendipitous, effective thought leadership promotes not only an individual but also the company’s brand. Consumers associate the brand with the leader, and that association reaps a lot of attention, whether through social media or in the traditional business press. In addition, thought leaders create a strategic advantage for their organizations. By writing, speaking and participating in business, political or charitable events, thought leaders develop a name recognition that can create and maintain a meaningful competitive advantage. Equally important, thought leaders generate loyal followers, whether they are customers, employees or other target audiences. They create a positive reputation for themselves and their organizations. Thought leaders inspire others. They amass influence, and that results in more opens doors, the creation of valuable relationships and the ability to makes things happen.
Six Steps to Developing Thought Leadership
- Invest in ongoing education. A true professional never stops learning.
- Devote time daily to producing new ideas, products and services that will benefit others and make the world a better place.
- Use the power of communication to persuade, inform, educate and inspire others.
- Ask questions, listen to others, and engage in dialogue with other recognized thought leaders.
- Use your influence to garner attention from colleagues, employees, customers, other thought leaders and the media.
- Publish consistently, speak at industry conferences and seek acknowledgement for your contributions.
Savvy organizations know that thought leadership is essential to stand out from the crowd in an increasingly competitive marketplace. When companies embrace thought leadership as a strategy for growth, they position themselves as a reputable partner, encourage customers to rethink the status quo and develop relationships that encourage long-term success. Yet it can be risky to place a few thought leaders on a pedestal. Promote the idea of thought leadership within the organization to create a collaborative and innovative environment that supports organizational goals.