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Sheridan Smalley

Published on

October 18, 2018


marketing, public relations

As we say here at LEWIS, leaders today need to be a brand. They are expected to be not just the head of their companies, but the face of their companies.

Look at today’s top business leaders. Sheryl Sandberg, Elon Musk or Richard Branson might come to mind. What makes them stand out? It’s not just that they’re out there building their companies, but rather, sharing career advice, commenting on societal trends or weighing in on industry news and happenings.

Richard talking about income inequality. Sheryl advising women in the workplace. Elon talking about, well, everything. They’re leading not just their businesses or even industries, but, dare I say, leading thought (for better or for worse).

At one point in time, there was only so much room for this type of thought leadership. But all that has changed with new technologies and channels that allow even non-celebrity CEOs to make their mark. And when done correctly, the opportunity is massive.

So, how do you build thought leadership? In our industry, we work with many executives with truly inspiring, interesting things to say, but who struggle to find their voice. Or, they embark on a journey to raise their thought-leadership profile without a thorough understanding of what that really means or looks like in practice.

We’re here to help. Let’s start at square one and break it down.Question

What is thought leadership?

Thought leadership is about providing unique perspectives, authoritative knowledge and forward-looking insights on key industry topics and trends. You can think of it as a type of content marketing, but one where you leverage your expertise, insights and passion to address the biggest questions and challenges on the minds of your audiences.

Which leads us to…

What is not thought leadership?

Self-promotion of your business, products or offerings. Thought leadership is about providing visionary perspectives, philosophies and predictions that benefit and ignite your audiences – not specifically the work your company is doing or the solutions it offers.

Let’s look at an example. In one CNBC interview, Richard Branson commented on the concept of universal basic income as a possible solution to the danger of tech replacing jobs. There is no mention to be found in the article of any Virgin brands or industries where Branson has direct business interests. Rather, his commentary is solely based on the impact that disruptive technologies may have on the workplace and workers at large.

Why does this matter?

Successful thought leadership engages and appeals to key audiences and prospects, it shines a spotlight on both the executive and his or her company as industry forerunners. The result is broad brand awareness and affinity.

Going back to Branson’s CNBC commentary, it shows that he – and, by extension, Virgin – understands what’s important to employees and is intelligently thinking about the latest technologies and their impact. This boosts the company brand and paints Branson and Virgin as innovators to the public.

This all sounds great. How do I make it work?

Thought leadership requires a willingness to take a stand and talk about your industry in a way that’s visionary and unique. To be successful, it requires five key building blocks:

  1. Something to say: Big, visionary ideas and compelling insights that matter to your audiences, industry or the public at large
  2. Differentiation: A unique, differentiated point of view on impactful trends and topics
  3. Expertise: Experience and depth of knowledge in your field and the challenges facing your audiences
  4. Sources and examples: To help validate your ideas and provide credibility
  5. A presence: Eloquence and skill at expressing yourself and ideas

Of course, these are just the fundamentals. We could go on and on about the ins and outs of thought leadership and pitfalls to avoid, but those are posts for another day.


If you’re ready to start growing your visibility, we can help. Drop us a line and find out how we can provide the sixth building block for successful thought leadership – the platform for your message to be heard.

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