Making thought leadership a bit easier
If you and your team or firm struggle to develop written thought leadership, that’s understandable. Developing high-quality thought leadership is hard. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
But you want to understand the difference between the normal difficulties that are a normal part of the process and those that can up-end the entire effort, and cost you money, readers, and opportunities.
It can actually be a good sign when developing thought leadership is a struggle. It may indicate that you’re working hard to create material that is genuinely useful to your clients. It may mean that you’re not settling for telling them what they already know in ways they’ve already heard. It may result from pushing yourself and your team to go beyond the same old thinking and messaging.
Or it may mean that you are on the wrong track, using the wrong process, or working without adequate support.
The first situation is as it should be. Yes, sometimes one enters “the zone” and a document almost seems to write itself. Many good ideas have this quality. The idea proliferates, suggesting new branches of thought and myriad opportunities, all of which ring true and fit well with one another.
Of course, getting even ideas like that down in final form can be difficult. Holes start to show. You notice that this part is not all that new and that part seems woefully impractical. Not to mention the often accurate critiques you hear when you share it with others.
But these are normal, expected difficulties in creating material, particularly in a team or organizational environment.
The key is to not make it harder than it has to be.
Here are four common ways teams and firms make it harder than it has to be:
- Lack of support: Many organizations and individuals misunderstand thought leadership. They confuse it with marketing, on the one hand, or with uninspired “viewpoints” on the other. They don’t understand thought leadership’s role in business development or what it takes to truly engage clients. As a result, the organization doesn’t actually support thought leadership, in some cases even when it believes that it does.
- Lack of process: There’s a writing process that most people benefit from following. People who don’t understand that process struggle mightily with writing, as individuals and as teams. There’s also a need for an editorial and publication process, and a process for using thought leadership materials within the marketing and sales process. Firms that fail to structure and use these processes can’t sustain development of thought leadership.
- Lack of material: It’s not fair to expect an individual or team to come up with true thought leadership out of thin air. Nor is it sensible to think that repackaging prosaic material with cooler graphics or new branding constitutes thought leadership. The best thought leadership starts with first-rate raw material—client cases and experiences, problems and solutions, survey data or other research—as well as creative approaches.
- Lack of skills: It takes writing skill to develop thought leadership to professional publication standards. While most consultants and professionals are excellent verbal communicators, and many are very good writers, few can write to professional publication standards. Lack of that level of writing—as well as dull, wordy, repetitive, overly formal writing—quickly loses readers. If it’s not working on the page, lack of writing skills may be the problem.
So, developing thought leadership is difficult. But you want to be able to distinguish whether you are dealing with the intrinsic challenges of the activity or you are making it harder than it has to be.
If you want to make thought as easy as possible, download your copy of my free ebook The Six Biggest Problems in Developing Thought Leadership and How to Solve Them.