May 31, 2019

Why Thought Leadership Still Matters

The buzzword thought leadership has been thrown around so frequently that the term could be accused of being stale and meaningless.

As Sangram Vajre Co-founder and CMO, Terminus explains in this article our mental fatigue may be related to its continued self- credited overuse on social media profiles and bios. 

“"The term "thought leader" is an attribution, a compliment that is earned and given to you, not something you type in a bio that's self-ascribed."” Sangram Vajre

However, when we remind ourselves of the term’s original definition, it’s easy to see why it has become used almost obsessively. And why it might need a refresh.

In 1994, Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of Strategy & Business magazine, coined the term to describe individuals “who had ideas which merited attention.”

From this broad denotation, the term has taken on many forms.

As “thought leadership” continues to become muddied, it’s high time we outline how modern-day thought leadership matters for businesses in 2019.

How Do You Define Thought Leadership?

Jake Dunlap, CEO, and founder of Skaled, defines thought leaders as, .”

So, according to these sources, thought leaders are disruptors, great researchers and innovative thinkers who provide the future with a unique and impactful way of thinking.

A quick Google search will reveal the many definitions of thought leadership.

But which one do we follow?

Here are two definitions we were particularly drawn to:

In the words of Shel Israel, a contributing writer at Forbes,

“A thought leader is someone who looks at the future and sets a course for it that others will follow. Thought leaders look at existing best practices then come up with better practices. They foment change, often causing great disruption.” Shel Israel

And Jake Dunlap, CEO, and founder of Skaled, defines thought leaders as,

“[Individuals] who draw on the past, analyze the present and illuminate the future to create a comprehensive, unique and impactful view of their area of expertise” Jake Dunlap

So, according to these sources, thought leaders are disruptors, great researchers and innovative thinkers who provide the future with a unique and impactful way of thinking.

5 Reasons Thought Leadership Matters

Despite its overuse, according to a 2019 Edelman impact study, 58 percent of all decision makers spend 1 to 3 hours reading “thought leadership content” on a weekly basis.

That’s because, like it or not, thought leadership is impactful, in 2019 and beyond.

1. Harbours Workplace Diversity

A modern-day thought leader encourages workplace diversity which not only improves reputation but enhances the outputs of the company.

According to the same study by Edelman, thought leadership is most credible when it’s provided by someone the prospect respects.

There are plenty of people out there who have branded themselves as a thought leader.

However, the truth is, it takes teamwork to create innovation. In fact, according to Entrepreneur, it takes four types of people to make this magic happen:

  • Creators
  • Advancers
  • Refiners
  • Executors

While it takes a team to innovate, a diverse team is required to make leading thoughts happen as it inspires innovation, faster problem-solving, and a variety of perspectives.

In fact, according to a study by McKinsey & Company, placing emphasis on diversity helps companies become 35% more likely to have financial returns above the industry median.

2. Motivates Discussions

Criticism is an excellent indicator that you’re doing something big.

Think about it:

If a piece of content is popular, chances are it’s watered down crumbs of someone else’s borrowed insight.

As we’ve seen from our chosen definitions, thought leadership is disruptive and true thought leaders are always introducing something new, something that introduces a novel way of thinking that completely unhinges the normal state of affairs.

According to Forbes, research shows a link between emotional intelligence and career success, and the #1 sign of this type of intelligence is people’s ability to handle criticism well.

If people are defensive towards content or ideas, it’s because they’re being forced to rethink a way they’ve always known to be true. When backed by emotionally-intelligent individuals, thought leadership stirs conversation and creates a buzz around the idea and the company or individual who ignited it.

3. Promotes Helpful, Educational and Findable Content

Thought leadership creates truly helpful and educational material as it focuses on innovative thought and embraces it from all angles.

And according to ITSMA, customers are 48% more likely to consider doing business with companies that offer to address their specific business issues.

When this leading material becomes findable online and is discussed with the right audience, it transforms into a beacon of support for many individuals striving to accomplish something similar.

Thought leadership creates personal and authentic material while tapping into meaningful options, themes, and issues that resonate with the company and customers.

It recognizes that business is first and foremost about enhancing an industry or the world at large - this creates content that is authentic and sought-after.

4. Helps Businesses Grow

The process of developing a new perspective offers a chance to play with different ideas, separating itself from the mundane rigor associated with certain professional positions.

This process and experimentation allow businesses to learn about their purpose on a deeper level, reflecting on both passions and imperfections. The journey then provides a clearer understanding of:

  • What ideas have yet to be discovered
  • What the business offers in terms of talent and abilities

This role as a thought leader is never finished. There’s always room for growth and enhancement, experimenting and problem-solving.

Think of Netflix. As a thought leader in its industry, Netflix continues to expand and innovate with an exact definition of itself, what ideas deserve attention and what its 140 million customers will love.

5. Ventures Outside the Corporate Box

Genuine thought leadership stimulates creativity.

Some of the best types of creative inspiration begin by looking outside of the corporate box and towards the needs of others or the world at large.

For example, Lemonade, the American insurance company offers insurance that “doesn’t suck”, offering an insurance model that is reversed.

Why Thought Leadership Still Matters

The company saw something their audience and world needed and worked towards changing the idea of insurance altogether to make it affordable, simple, and extremely fair.

Thinking outside of a normal standard creates an operation that is of service to others, rather than for one’s reputation which always intensifies the amount of impact it provides.

The Future of Thought Leadership

The foundation of thought leadership goes beyond the ego.

It focuses on the deepest responses to the biggest questions while meeting the ever-evolving needs of customers in a modern era.

It’s a pursuit that delves beyond growth and innovation, towards the betterment of the world at large – a job that doesn’t stop at a single idea.

Thought leadership illuminates the future with excitement and ideas that offer intellectual stimulation, inspiration and - sometimes - even a bit of discomfort in order to lead to change.

Thought leadership matters because endorsing innovation and creativity creates a new outlook on not just an industry, but our whole society. It stimulates a reimagination of topics or issues that would have otherwise been left to become stale and shallow with no place in our ever-evolving world.

Diana Myers
Diana Myers

Diana Myers is a Candian copywriter, content expert and CBO of her content agency, Quill and Craft. Consumed by the art of storytelling, Diana is on a mission to humanize brands through humor, heart, and CSR practices. When she’s not glued to her laptop, you’ll find her studying ecological restoration, mapping out hikes less-traveled or brewing herbal potions for her reluctant partner.

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