Although thought leadership has been around since the 60’s when for-profit consulting firms created communication pieces mirroring academic journals to increase clientele, it has earned renewed notoriety in recent years. And frankly, people have a love-hate relationship with the term.
Love because it’s relevant. Legitimate thought leadership done right enhances reputation, increases presence, positions you above competitors, generates leads and conversions, and optimizes impact in the chaotic world of everything-internet. (see “6 Ways Thought Leadership Will Take Your Marketing to New Levels,” John Hall, 7/8/13, Forbes.com)
Hate because it’s overused and misused. Joel Kurtzman coined the term in the 90’s. He said not only customers, but peers and industry experts will recognize the individual as a thought leader. That individual “deeply understands the business they are in, the needs of the customers, and the broader marketplace in which they operate." Yet, lots of people use the mechanism of thought leadership (sharing content, inviting you in through dialogue, positioning oneself as an expert) without delivering anything of substance.
Perfect example: Someone tweets a revolutionary headline about some new HR innovation and when you click on the blog there is no content, but rather an ambiguous “register for webinar X for $500” link. On the other hand, when someone tweets that same headline and then offers deep, valuable information, I become a forever-follower.
I pull my examples from fundraising because it’s my industry. Thought leaders I follow include Dan Allenby and his Annual Giving Network; Kent Stroman at The Asking Academy; Josh Birkholz who wrote the book on Fundraising Analytics; and Anne Freedman, International Presentation Coach. These people blow my mind every time I read their stuff. It’s informative and valuable. For that reason, I’ve contracted with some of them and I’ve connected with all of them.
So why might a community-based non-profit or small company consider this approach to sharing expertise with various constituencies? It can lead to:
I'll close with this awesome quote from Britton Manasco in her 4/5/12 article "Out of the Darkness: Thought Leaders Illuminate the Path Forward."
"Thought leadership is the presentation of relevant and compelling insights - enabling one's intended audience to comprehend key issues, make decisions, and embrace change. It concerns all leaders that hope to influence our understanding of past events, present conditions and future possibilities."
Pamela Say is a published author, fundraiser, and life-long student of leadership. Browse Pam's blog entries for possible conference session or keynote topics. Pam customizes training opportunities for her clients.
Email me at BeASeedPlanter@outlook.com.