Can You Have Thought Leadership Without a Thought Leader?

Posted on Thursday, August 29th, 2019

For August’s second MEG meetup, we looked at thought leadership, an often misunderstood and misused aspect of business marketing and communications.

As increasingly more people are presenting themselves as thought leaders, there is some confusion over what thought leadership actually means, and whether you need to be a certain type of person to practice it.

Labels Can be Misleading

The big hurdle people face with grasping the concept of thought leadership is the name itself.

Because the idea of the thought leader has captured people’s imagination, it is starting to feel like a deluge of ego-driven content could threaten to saturate the online content we look at.

Thought leader and thought leadership are misleading labels.

It’s the second word in both phrases that causes complications, because it encourages people to feel they must somehow express their leadership capacity first and foremost.

Here, however, is a definition of thought leadership from Marketing Insider Group. On its website, it defines thought leadership as:

“a type of content marketing where you tap into the talent, experience, and passion inside your business, or from your community, to consistently answer the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience on a particular topic.”

It is about putting the audience’s need first and being useful to them. It is not about ego.

Substance vs Form

The problem with thought leaders can be that they put form before substance. They become fixated on their own status and personal brand, as opposed to the substance of their message.

This is the thing: thought leadership is a technique. It describes a method for transmitting useful information in a way that should add value to an audience.

Do you have to be a thought leader to deliver effective thought leadership?

No. What matters is that what you have to say has substance and that you express it confidently, with authority. But this authority derives, ultimately, from what you say, not who you are, or picture yourself to be.

Furthermore, the least effective, ego-driven, would-be thought leaders tend to be very short-term in their thinking. In fact, thought leadership is much more of a long-term strategy.

It is about building credibility with content over time. And you don’t have to elevate your own ego to do it.

Modest or Humble?

Often the most talented voices aren’t those that shout the loudest.

You might see this as a flaw, if, in business, you are required to promote your brand, and what you represent.

But there is a crucial difference between being modest and being humble.

Being modest is a personality trait where you don’t flaunt yourself. Being humble, on the other hand, is more about an inner state, where you are willing to accept another person’s authority without challenging it or asserting yourself.

It is perfectly possible, and credible, therefore, to use thought leadership but to be modest along with it.

In fact, taking a modest approach to sharing your knowledge and insight may well resonate more powerfully with an audience, especially if they’re suffering fatigue from a constant bombardment of ego-led content.

Thought leadership is a principle, not a status.

You become the guide, not the hero.

More from MEG

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