Thought leadership status takes time and effort to achieve – it’s a cumulative endeavour. If you aspire to be recognised as a thought leader, consider your options and adopt the approach that’s right for you.
The practicalities of thought leadership
How you go about demonstrating your thought leadership will largely depend upon whether you’re already recognised as an expert or are seeking to position yourself as one.
If you are established as an expert in your field, the media and industry analysts might already be motivated to seek you out. Even if you’re not top of mind, most journalists and news outlets maintain databases of experts and commentators. They also rely heavily on word-of-mouth to identify the relevant ‘go-to’ person.
Conversely, if you’re an aspiring thought leader you’ll need to push your views out – at least initially – such as by submitting abstracts to conferences and writing bylined articles and opinion pieces. Your goal will be to build awareness and recognition; to position yourself as someone who has something original to say, and who is willing and able to say it. More on that later.
It’s a misconception to think all thought leaders are extroverts. They’re not. What’s your preferred style? Do you get a rush from appearing on television? Do you enjoy the spontaneity of talkback radio? Are you someone who likes to over-prepare, almost? Do you prefer to put thoughts on paper rather than speaking off-the-cuff?
It’s important that you understand your strengths and establish boundaries to fit your comfort level. Over time you can work on your weaknesses –undertake media training, for example, to help you negotiate interviews – but don’t rush.
How much time do you have available? Crafting an opinion piece that’s worthy of being published in the op-ed pages couple take several hours. Taking a call from a journalist who’s on a deadline might take only ten minutes. Understand that both represent different levels of risk.
What marketing and communications support do you have at your disposal? If you work for a large corporate you’ll have access to a team of marketing strategists and tacticians. If you’re in a smaller-size firm your option might be to engage external support or make do with less.
Thought leadership is not achieved overnight – it’s a cumulative endeavour. The benefit of working with marketing professionals is they’ll be able to help you develop a long-term plan that draws on a variety of tactics, channels, and formats.
It goes without saying that to be recognised as a thought leader you need to have something original to say – a novel idea, a new perspective, an alternative point of view.
It’s also a corporate reality that you might also need permission to say it. If you work for a large company – a multinational or international organisation – you probably have a corporate communications team that is responsible for managing your organisation’s reputation and external relations.
Internal approval processes can obstruct your ability to be opportunistic, reactive and nimble. But as frustrating as they may be, you won’t get far by bypassing policy and procedure. Take the time to understand the parameters that are imposed and work within them.