I think I’d like to be a Thought Leader. Think again.
For me, the bottom line is this: you can’t decide to be a Thought Leader, either as an individual or as a brand. It has to be a status that is conferred on you by others. If you accept that, then I think there are at least 4 interesting strategic issues:
1. Why do you want to be a thought leader? = BUSINESS CASE
2. Who do you want to regard your brand as a thought leader? = TARGET AUDIENCE
3. What might qualify you as a Thought Leader or help you to get there? = BRAND ATTRIBUTES
4. What are the long-term behaviours and actions that might make people consider you to be a thought leader? = STRATEGIC PLANNING
Unfortunately – and I’ve seen this a few times – Thought Leadership is often expressed as an intention or outcome, but without a strategic purpose or actionable strategy on how to get there. And then lots of random activities take place in the name of thought leadership.
I still maintain that a true Thought Leader ALWAYS does two things in practice:
1. Acts generously for the benefit of a wider community (for example, by pursuing an agenda that benefits a whole industry or category). This requires an OUTSIDE-IN approach
2. Catalyses conversations by bringing key players together, while at the same time having a point of view. The key is recognising that there are often divergent points of view in any debate or issue and celebrating that, rather than fighting it. A brand that just engages with lots of like-minded people is not a thought leader; they’re just getting their content sponsored!
But this is just my point of view; if you want the definitive answer, you’d better ask the Thought Leaders on Thought Leadership. Whoever they may be.