Most thought leadership is lacking in two areas: thought and leadership.
There’s one culprit for that: ego. Specifically, our desire to speak to our own experiences in thought leadership often shadows the ability to relate to our audiences. All thought leadership should begin and end with your audience. Otherwise, it will get lost in the noise.
Case in point: All those stories written by CEOs about experiences that shaped their lives. You know the ones, with titles like, “How Climbing Kilimanjaro Made Me a Better Leader,” “What Running Five Marathons in a Year Taught Me About Team Building,” and “How My Chronic Hangnails as a Child Shaped My Marketing.” These kinds of pieces are everywhere, but they do little to actually change hearts and minds.
Think about it. How many readers have the ability or means to climb Kilimanjaro or run all those marathons? Most people who are interested in leadership advice are busy working, and trying to improve their careers. They can’t possibly relate to one person’s rarefied experience. All these pieces do is stroke the author’s ego and build on a personal brand at the expense of getting attention for a company’s products or services.
This kind of content onanism isn’t the only culprit in hollow thought leadership. Sometimes authors spend so much time talking about how they came up with a concept, they ignore the impact of the concept itself. This is especially true of white papers or thought pieces built around company research. In many cases, the conclusions are valid and helpful. Getting there is a problem. Bad white papers have poor titles, a lot of extraneous research, and no call to action. Really bad white papers have all that and more. Again, missing is the idea that the audience needs an action they can relate to. It’s writing for the sake of writing vs. writing with the goal of outcome.
To be blunt, audiences just aren’t into you. They don’t want to know how travelled you are, or how smart you are, or how many hours you sleep or what temperature you set for your morning shower. Sure, those stories get clicks and views, but they don’t get customers. The only reason to create thought leadership is to get customers excited about your company. Content is a currency for conversion. Content based on thought-provoking ideas or points of view makes audiences stand up, take notice and spend money. Your personal story can be a part of that (provided it is authentic) but it shouldn’t be all of that. Your company’s value proposition is the heart of your narrative, not you.
Good thought leadership doesn’t have to be so complicated. You just have to put some thought into it.