Mark Amtower

OPINION

7 elements of thought leadership

Thought leadership is back in vogue in a big way, and there are many who claim the thought leader mantle without a clue as to what thought leadership is and what it takes to attain the status.

With that being said, I will outline the elements of thought leadership and the accompanying benefits of that status. The term itself has only been around 19 years, first showing up in the Booz Allen Hamilton excellent magazine Strategy and Business.

A thought leader is an individual or company that is widely recognized as an authority in a specific niche. They are sought out by the media, conferences and potential clients for that expertise.

Activities of a thought leader do not simply encompass “knowing stuff”, but maintaining a knowledge and awareness of their niche that places them at or near the top of that niche on a constant basis.

This should be a given, but thought leaders go further. They find and share venues where they can share their knowledge with their business community. These venues can include various places to write (articles for trade publications, blogs, white papers, etc), speaking at various industry events, and sharing at networking venues.

Some people think being a subject matter expert makes them a thought leader. You can be an expert on virtually anything, but if you lack the quality of sharing that knowledge and you lack the recognition of the niche, you don’t make the cut. Not everyone gets there.

Thought leaders are not merely seen, but they are widely recognized by the community they serve and they are trusted by that community. They are proactive in both their learning and their sharing. Usually they exude an excitement about sharing their knowledge in virtually any environment. I view that enthusiasm as a key trait.

Thought leader is not a self-bestowed title, though there are those who seem to think by adding the phrase to their LinkedIn profile, the mantle has settled on them.

The benefits of thought leadership are clear- recognition by the industry served by way of speaking engagements, articles, blogs and guest blogs, and more. Thought leadership is often accompanied by more business for you and your company.

So who can attain this lofty status? That is hard to say, but what is easy to say is that most don’t make the effort.

In Selling to the Government I outline seven steps you need to take.

First: Carefully define your niche and be absolutely certain you have a legitimate claim to some intellectual real estate pertaining to that niche.

Second: Establish your claim by developing and sharing information.

Third: Further establish the claim by incorporating it into your web site, collateral material and your social networking activity.

Fourth: Thought leadership requires an immediate information outlet, so you should have a blog

Fifth: Tie your activities together: articles, speeches and blog posts should be tweeted; writing articles should appear on your web site and LinkedIn profile; have a “Share” button on your blog to make it easier for people to share what you write; your web address, LinkedIn profile url and Twitter handle should be on everything you write.

Sixth: Understand that intellectual real estate is rarely a sole-ownership situation. There may be multiple tenants. A true thought leader acknowledges the contributions of anyone who adds value. Cite your sources.

Seventh: Make connections and network with people in your niche, online and offline. Visibility is a key.

Thought leadership is a discipline, one that demands many things aside from the knowledge: you must be seen, known and trusted – and then you have a shot at being recognized by your niche as a thought leader.

About the Author

Mark Amtower advises government contractors on all facets of business-to-government (B2G) marketing and leveraging LinkedIn.

Reader Comments

Tue, Dec 10, 2013 Amtower

Admirer - I agree in part, but contracting officers and other influencers have a comfort level with companies that are known and that are recognized experts. While thought leadership may not be the #1 criteria, it is still on the list and may cause the tipping point.

Thu, Dec 5, 2013 Chris Feudo Tysons Corner, VA

Your are right on Mark. One critical attribute of a thought leader which is inherent in all you have said, but needs to be highlighted, is that a thought leader must be a leader, one who motivates, inspires, and influences. We here at the University of Fairfax have had a consistent theme since our inception in 2002 to enhance CyberSecurity Thought Leadership - Develop a cadre of CyberSecurity thought leaders.

Tue, Nov 26, 2013 Admirer

Mark--unfortunately, in our industry, the labor is suppled and actively marketed and, indeed, bought as a commodity. And far more often than not, the Federal customer is not looking for analytical moxie, or even more than yes-I-am-awake-and-breathing thoughtfulness. It can and does happen, but big sales and most small ones are not bought for the thought leadership content that might fill the process methodology that you just laid out. Nature of the beast.

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