“The basic economic resource – the means of production – is no longer capital, nor natural resources, nor labor. It is and will be knowledge”.
Wise words, indeed, from the management guru Peter Drucker, and never more important than now, given the world we live in. Where quality content is currency. Where leaders are jostling for differentiation, brand value, and trust. Thought Leadership is the go-to path for becoming known. That too, becoming known for making a difference.
And yet, today, everyone describes or sees themselves as a ‘thought leader’. A quick run-through of profiles across LinkedIn would have this descriptor in almost every other profile. Wikipedia refers to ‘thought leadership’ as business jargon and, in 2013, Forbes bestowed it with the title of “most annoying business slang”!! An oversaturation of self-proclaimed “thought leaders” has led to some amount of weariness and yet it remains an effective strategy to acquire a quality business, to build trust, and to take on a leadership stance.
In a sea of Me-Too’s, what is Thought Leadership really about?
In its simplest form and according to the Oxford dictionary, Thought Leadership refers to “intellectual influence and innovative or pioneering thinking”.
The term was first coined in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of the magazine, Strategy & Business, who said that “A thought leader is recognized by peers, customers and industry experts as someone who deeply understands the business they are in, the needs of their customers and the broader marketplace in which they operate. They have distinctively original ideas, unique points of view and new insights”.
Wikipedia refines this concept even more by adding, “a thought leader is someone whose expertise is sought and often rewarded”.
Matt Church, founder of Thought Leaders, a training firm, contended that Google has changed the ‘thought expert’ dynamic. Anyone with an internet connection can get more information than they will ever need. This information overload has created three vacuums – meaning, relevance, and engagement. And that is exactly what a thought leader needs to provide – meaning, relevance, and engagement, says Church.
Stephen Covey demonstrated this concept, admirably with his Time Management Matrix that makes the point that we need to spend less time on the urgent, non-important stuff, and give much more priority to the important, non-urgent stuff. It’s a piece of thought leadership that raked in the dollars and influenced millions of people. However, it wasn’t an original idea and Covey’s model was based on Goethe’s quote “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least”. Covey took that idea, flipped it a bit and made it relevant, engaging, and meaningful. He honorably attributed the source and through his thought leadership, became renowned as a management guru.
Thought Leaders do not have any special gene, any inborn talents, or even a secret decoder ring. They exist in every industry, nation, and arena. They are not always confident. They are not always the smartest kids in the room; most will admit that even if they are the “expert” in their community, they still have a lot to learn. Thought leaders do not always start out with a clear path, plan, or purpose. They often stumble around, lose their way, and then, somehow, find it again. When they do find their way, they gain more visibility for the work they are doing and they go on to leave a legacy that extends beyond a series of job titles on a resume.
Hallmarks of successful thought leadership
There are certain characteristics typically associated with thought leaders
• Expertise in a particular field & regular involvement in it.
• A clearly identified point of view that contributes achievable ideas with foresight that these will evolve tactically and strategically.
• Being sensitive to gauge receptiveness to ideas and the ability to build balance so as to not rattle the boat.
• The ability to present ideas that are fresh, out-of-the-box & ones that create paradigm shifts or thinking-shifts.
• A strong professional track record and credibility.
• A supportive tribe.
…….while keeping in mind that
1. Thought Leadership feeds publicity.
2. Thought Leadership fuels content.
3. Thought Leadership builds credibility and trust.
4. Thought Leaders give freely.
5. Thought Leadership isn’t for everyone.
When an organization or individual takes on thought leadership as a part of their strategic armor, they have to ensure that they don’t eventually become thought followers and their single-minded pursuit has to simply be to provide meaning, relevance, and engagement to their audiences.
In the niche consultancy space, EZDynamic is a Management Consulting firm, based in New York, that caters to the Financial Services sector and provides consulting expertise through their 5 business verticals, viz. Business Strategy, Technology, Regulatory Implementation, Change Management & Staff Augmentation.
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