What Is Thought Leadership?
Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, was criticized for the platform’s growth of hate speech and misinformation. As part of the company’s self-examination, they changed their mission statement to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” At the same time, the company expanded the abilities of its Groups feature to encourage positive community discussions. This thought leadership example shows the power of letting a new idea or mission shape the efforts of a business.
The need for a different kind of leadership is emerging. There has been a transition from profit and productivity-centered businesses to a mission-centered model. Entrepreneurs are looking for leaders who can help them define and share the purpose of their organizations as a way to inspire both employees and clients.
A Simple Thought Leadership Definition
Businesses crave people with leadership skills. In the past, leadership has focused primarily on productivity. A business leader was someone who could help a team accomplish its assigned tasks. While these skills are still essential, thought leadership is more about leading people to insights into the “why” of a business or industry.
A basic thought leadership definition is someone who brings innovative ideas to a business sector. Through both study and experience, this person is an expert in their field. At their best, thought leaders do not simply give answers or share information, but they help people make new connections that lead to innovations. Thought leadership may begin at the local business level, but a thought leadership example such as Tony Robbins or Christy Wright demonstrates how this role can garner international attention.
A Neuroscientific Approach to Thought Leadership
As businesses pursue a mission-oriented focus, they need leaders who can change the culture of an organization. Cultivating meaningful change is a difficult task because human brains are wired to prefer the routine and expected. A cultural shift at the workplace means helping people navigate through the discomfort of change.
Helping to Navigate the Pain of Change
The human brain likes to operate on autopilot. Many of the tasks you perform each day happen without much conscious thought. How often do you think intentionally about brushing your teeth or taking a shower? How many times have you taken the same route to work without noticing what happens along the way? Doing things by habit establishes neurological pathways that conserve your mental energy.
This system is excellent when you are working with healthy, productive habits. Yet, negative habits also establish neurological connections. If you have ever tried to break an unhealthy habit, you know how challenging it can be. Disrupting mental patterns creates physical discomfort and stress.
When faced with an unexpected challenge, the primitive part of your brain treats it as an unknown threat. It releases the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. As a result, your heart beats faster, and your blood pressure rises. Your body is preparing for a classic fight or flight response.
This pattern also applies to changes in the workplace. Even when a workflow process is inefficient, employees may feel threatened if it is not their standard routine. Thought leaders in the workplace do not command the change. They help employees discover the benefits of a new system on their own. This personal enlightenment significantly reduces the stress of the transition.
It takes time and repetition to establish new neurological pathways. A common leadership mistake is assuming that a single exposure to a new idea is enough. Many business leaders have had the experience of attending a conference and feeling inspired by what they learn. However, by the time they get back to the office, they have forgotten what was so attractive. Instead, they return to the familiar way of doing things.
Adopting new ideas required actionable steps as well as a clear presentation. If an office is making a significant cultural shift, thought leaders must find ways to reinforce the philosophy. Employees will need reminders of how a new product, feature, or system aligns with a new mission. They will also require periodic reminders to keep from slipping back into old habits.
Developing a Successful Thought Leadership Strategy
Recognition as a thought leader happens over time. People need to see that your ideas work and can create meaningful change. The first step in your thought leadership strategy will be emerging as a leader in your local organization.
Becoming a Thought Leader at Your Business
Thought leadership begins with knowledge. Whatever your primary field, you want to be an expert who knows the latest ideas. Developing your knowledge base means reading and studying leaders in your industry. You want to be the person whom your company consults when they need information about current trends.
However, authentic thought leadership is more than the ability to pass on relevant facts or trends. Part of a thought leader’s skillset is interpreting and sharing information that leads to effective change. The leader presents information in a way that allows listeners to make personal connections. Eliciting an “Aha!” moment from an audience is much more effective at shaping neural pathways.
Increasing Your Impact as a Thought Leader
When you successfully fulfill this role at your business, you might consider broadening your audience. Every industry needs thought leaders who will guide businesses through times of change. The ability to synthesize and present a vision can change the direction of your entrepreneurial career. Talented thought leaders are in demand as conference speakers, authors, and consultants.
Creating Thought Leadership Content
The transition from a local entrepreneur to an industry thought leader requires effort. People tend to put greater trust in names they recognize. However, when you consistently produce quality thought leadership content, it will not be long until you have a following.
Establish Your Mission
Before you set out to become a thought leader, it is helpful to think about your reason for this pursuit. The best leaders combine passion, knowledge, and purpose.
Commit to the Process
Even if you are a talented writer, a single article will not recognize your need to move forward. The pace of change in business moves too rapidly for any text to have a long shelf life. You must commit to expanding your knowledge and producing frequent content.
Most thought leaders begin by writing. Do not let worries about stylistic perfection slow you down. Start writing about a subject that inspires your passion, and let other people see it. You will not begin with a large audience, so it is crucial to get feedback from your local colleagues. As you produce more content, it increases the possibility of someone sharing the information beyond your immediate circle.
The Power of Speech
Public speaking is another important aspect of this pursuit. As your reputation increases, people will want to hear from you at conferences and other events. Holding seminars at your current place of business can give you helpful experience in speaking with a crowd and handling Q&A sessions.
Blogs and Social Media
Changing the way that people think involves reinforcement and repetition. Online forums like blogs and social media allow you to present your message more frequently and differently. In a blog, you can share your important message and stories about successful applications of your way of thinking.
The Consulting Leader
When a business struggles to stay relevant, it may seek advice from a thought leader. Consultation is an opportunity to put your ideas to practical use. The successful application of your advice will lead to more occasions to grow as a thought leader.
Developing Your Thought Leadership Skills
What is thought leadership? It is a way of thinking that helps people understand the “why” of their businesses. If you are fascinated by thought leadership in the way that I am, you can reach out to the Productivity Intelligence Institute. I would be pleased to help you on your thought leadership journey.