What is a thought leader and how do you recognise one? This is a question you may not have considered before, along with the reasons why you should be a thought leader. Well the role is becoming more relevant in today’s business world. More and more companies are looking to thought leadership to drive their brand, products and services forward. There are many renowned and successful brands that have made a name for themselves for their ability to take a brand to another level. Let’s take a look at the qualities required and why you should be a thought leader.
The characteristics of a thought leader
There are many characteristics that make a good thought leader. Some would say they rank in order of priority, others may say you need them all to really make a difference. Of course many go hand in hand:
- Conviction, passion and drive – you really need to know, understand, support and completely believe in a product or concept.
- Take risks – now whilst you don’t need to stake the whole future of the business on a decision, you do need to be able to take measured risks. Many times the most successful thought leaders get it wrong before they get it right. Success often comes from failure.
- Innovative – Thought leadership is about having ideas. It’s about seeing beyond the current products and finding ways to make them better, creating something that your customers want.
- Influencer – A good thought leader can inspire and motivate others to believe and strive for the same end goal.
- Someone who makes it happen – A good idea is just an idea if it stays locked inside your head therefore to execute the idea and exercise consistency makes a true thought leader.
When you should use a thought leadership approach
It is important to recognise when to use a thought leadership approach. Not everyone can be a thought leader although many think that knowing a lot about a subject automatically qualifies them. There are many points to consider. Firstly you must have a deep understanding of the particular subject backed up by in depth research. You have to be confident that you know your subject. It is also critical that your brand can answer the sometimes difficult questions of your audience.
There are other occasions when a thought leadership approach can give you an advantage. If you are looking to start a new revenue stream such as public speaking or consulting then the powers of social media, blogging and putting your public speaking to good use will be of massive benefit. It also helps when your area of expertise or the cause that you are trying to promote is not very well known. If people don’t understand what you do then thought leadership is a good approach to take.
When not to use a thought leadership approach
On the flip side of recognising when it is a good time to use this approach is identifying when it is not a good time! If you have a product that is just another product similar to everything else out there then you are going to need a lot to make a difference. Thought leadership has to be more subtle than standing there banging a drum about how fantastic your offering is. People don’t want to have products shoved under their noses. They need to be encouraged and influenced without realising it. Also you will struggle to have an impact as a thought leader if your product doesn’t answer the questions of your audience.
Why you should be a thought leader
In order to try and explain this better it is probably better to use an actual example of a thought leader. Take Richard Branson as a prime example. For years now his name and the name of his brand have become one of the most recognisable brands in the world. You see it wasn’t just the name Virgin that bought him so much recognition but what he put behind the brand as himself. He allowed people to get to know him making his brand people centred. People are more likely to engage with a brand if they trust and believe in it. Allowing people to get to know the people behind it makes a massive difference. He has since inspired many people around the world to follow in his footsteps.
Lets not paint a flowery picture though. He has had to face his fair share of barriers and made mistakes along the way. In fact he made so many mistakes before he found success. Who can forget the failed attempt to take a hot air balloon around the world and do they still make Virgin Cola? Even he underestimated the world’s most popular brand when he thought he could take on Coca Cola. This is a prime example of when not to exercise a thought leadership approach. But his overall approach has worked. He has learnt from mistakes and turned failure into success. He has also taken many risks and without risk it is difficult to become a good thought leader. The point is if you really want to succeed and want people to identify with you and your brand then a thought leadership approach can pay massive dividends.