Yesterday I wrote about the inflation of the term thought leadership. There is no magic potion for becoming a thought leader, but you can dissect three characteristics of a real thought leader.
Three characteristics (3C´s) of a Thought Leader
Whether it is grounded on heritage (IBM, GE) or innovation (Zappos, 37Signals), you have to build your credibility on real actions. There is no shortcut for it. It requires hours of work and a fair amount of blood, sweat and tears.
You cannot sugarcoat business mediocrity with great writing or flashy marketing. Good (or actually rather bad) example of great marketing over not a lot of substance is BP´s Beyond Petroleum. That thought leadership campaign looked quite out-of-place with their 2010 oil spill in Mexico and continuous neglect of safety measures.
There is no thought leadership, without radical thinking. Thought leaders dare to challenge status quo. If you aspire to be thought leader, you should not be afraid of confrontation and differentation from the mass. Leaders are not always right, but they have a clear point-of-view and direction where they are heading. Richard Branson is a thought leader, because he dares to go against the grain. The successes and failures of his ventures are secondary. He is thought leader because he is not afraid to try and rebel against traditional ways to do business.
The thought leadership companies commit to every piece of their business passionately. The core of successful business lies in almost maniac drive to understand your customers better. This drive correlates highly with great marketing activities. Thought leadership initiatives fail because people are not committed to them. When you are forced to write a blog post, you resent the task and produce a bland sales pitch. If you are changing the world, you want to tell about it and then writing that blog post is more of an honor than a dull task.
It is wrong to say that it is now easier to become thought leader. It is always hard task and requires dedication and determination. No shortcuts.
That being said, the rotation of thought leaders is faster than it used to be. Thought leader today, gone tomorrow. Especially the technologic disruption opens up possibilities for the brands and individuals to become thought leaders in their business. Provided that they are committed to change the world and challenge the status quo.
Thought leadership brands gain credibility by challenging the norms and committing to their mission to change the world.