Reexamining the Concepts of Thought Leadership

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By: George Ramos, AVP for Learning and Development

Thought leadership is another hackneyed term used in business journals and articles that populate both association publications and networking activities.  Let me be clear however that even though the concept has been wrapped, re-wrapped, repackaged, and watered down through misapplication does not mean that it is no longer important. At best Thought Leadership can still find a place in the more important business annals given the right context and approach. To even find the value in the concept means to really dive down deep inside the nuts and bolts that make the concept itself.
First we need to define the notion of thought leadership in a way that is credible instead of the defeated, inflated concept.

Working Hard-1.jpgAccording to Wikipedia: A thought leader can refer to an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded—this is the inflated concept because realistically, any organization or individual can claim thought leadership and all the while achieve what they are supposed to achieve. Any organization needs to establish a foothold—it’s a must to thrive in a cutthroat environment and deliver. What’s wrong with the term is that any CEO who can pay his way to a conference speaking spot can already be sought as a thought leader. I like this definition of Thought Leadership better i.e. when individuals distinguish themselves in a field by leading the way with new ideas, fresh commentary, and expertise.

Related: Bridging the Leadership Gap
This means thought leadership has to build on fundamental value. You have to actually have something to contribute first before people will want to listen to you, and even then, what you say needs to add value. With this, there are certain basics that you and your organization would need to have to finally make it into the thought leadership criteria.

  1. Is it Game Changing? Sure you can always articulate something off a technical manual and come off as impressive. You can even make a scientific or technological claim—but does it solve common to complex problems? Does it help organizations and individuals to function better, generate better results, and realize more benefits instead of putting more anecdotes to confusing concepts?
  1. Can you Articulate this Clearly? Expressions-18.jpgArticulation skills are important to convey a clear message to absolutely anyone in your organization. The good ones are the ones who provide clarity to a bigger organization on what is happening or what is being discussed, argued, disputed, or surfaced. They have the ability to make complicated issues clear and serve as a channel to other groups inside and outside the organization. Making words and concepts more simplistic but at the same time powerful confirms a building block to the thought leadership criteria.
  1. Can you get everyone’s Buy In? This is where everyone wants a piece of the value and that they are willing to invest their time and resources to it. This is the most difficult aspect of the thought leader concept as it is no longer tied to just being a concept. It becomes a metaphor that ignites action and elicits results from those who get “touched” by it. Converting concept to a call to action that people are ragingly intent to support and champion is not just a skill but hits at the core belief of individuals.

Laying the groundwork of thought leadership is important. If you haven’t built extensive credibility to the work that you do, then Thought Leadership cannot be validated. First—you look at impact above all. Impressing people and taking them to act accordingly is the other piece in the process to ensure effectiveness and results. Otherwise, it’s better to just label everyone “a speaker who has new ideas to share” instead of claiming Thought Leadership.

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