What ideas have potential for thought leadership?
Something we hear all too often from business owners is, “I’m not too sure if a thought leadership approach is right for me”, or “I don’t think my ideas are even the right fit for thought leadership.”
Here’s the thing: there are people doing amazing things all over the place, so there’s no particular topic that’s the ‘perfect fit’ for thought leadership. Thought leaders are the leaders in their field; their visions of better can span from tech to management and right through to parenting (although those leadership lessons can normally be applied to parenting too!).
You see, the industry you’re in matters a lot less than the breadth and depth of your thinking. Almost anything goes – as long as you’re adding something new to the conversation and are able to create a clear, unique position for yourself and your business.
But what ideas have got the most potential for thought leadership? And how do you get your ideas there?
What isn’t the right fit for thought leadership?
First off, it’s important to know if you’ve actually got original ideas!
If you’re just trying to advertise or sell products, then you’re never going to be adding value to your audience in the way that’s required to be a thought leader.
Thought leadership isn’t about becoming a celebrity or moving product as quickly as possible. That’s better left to advertisers – or perhaps no one! Instead, you should be focussed on sharing ideas that will have a positive impact on your audience, and so building your reputation and your audience’s trust that you become a trusted figure in your field.
A new idea
When considering the potential of your ideas for thought leadership, you have to ask yourself whether your ideas are actually new. While it’s important to keep an eye on what’s going on in your industry, thought leadership isn’t about just commenting on what’s going on or echoing what everyone else is saying.
There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by ideas from other people though! We and our clients do it all the time. After all, there’s no point reinventing the wheel. But you’ve got to take that thinking a step further, or find a new and refreshing angle, rather than simply repeating what someone else has already said.
Think about how you can make something even better and what makes your take on a topic particularly unique; consider how your experience and worldview provide a new perspective or interpretation on your subject. That will help you find your thought leadership niche and really extend your thinking to make you stand out.
Solving a problem
If you know your ideas aren’t focused on selling something, and bring a unique perspective to a topic, now it’s time to take your ideas a few steps further to ensure they’ll have the best possible impact.
As yourself who your ideas are for: Who’s your audience? Establishing the people you’re trying to reach – and considering the challenges they’re up against – is the first step to understanding how your ideas and thinking can help.
There’s a lyric in an obscure musical with the slightly odd name [Title of Show] that says “I’d rather be nine people’s favourite thing / than a hundred people’s ninth favourite thing”. That applies so well to thought leadership. Understanding who you exist to serve, and aiming everything you do at them, will help you not only connect with them but also become their favourite go-to. Better to be the top of your specific audience’s mind than the middle of everyone’s!
Consider whether the ideas that you’re keen to share will either solve a problem or create an opportunity for people. If it’s not doing either of these things, then it probably isn’t thought leadership.
If your ideas are helping your target audience in some way to do better – whether by providing them with a framework or model to implement in their own work, or by exploring a tool they can use in their personal lives – then they’ve got the potential for thought leadership.
Find your niche
It’s important to remember that nobody is an expert in everything. And that’s okay! The best thought leadership comes from people who understand their niche inside-out and back-to-front, making them a true expert in their specific field. Those people also know the limits of their ideas, and where – and when – those ideas can and can’t be applied. Figuring out what it is you’re truly an authority in will help you create truly impactful thought leadership, since you’ll be speaking from your proven experience.
Deciding what you’re not the expert in, and reducing what you talk about to your area of expertise only, is probably the most powerful thing you can do. Instead of confusing your audience about what to come to you for, you make it obvious. If you think Dave Ramsey, you probably don’t think about starting a business, or even business finances – you think about personal finances. The trick is to make it obvious what your audience should come to you for – your area of mastery – and become their favourite person to come to for that subject.
Truth be told, there’s no ‘fake it until you make it’ when it comes to thought leadership. Your authority as a thought leader can only come from the experience and knowledge in the area that you’re practiced in. It’s best to stick to what you’re an absolute expert in, and not try to expand into areas that you aren’t familiar with – otherwise the other experts will soon sniff you out!
Are you passionate?
A good idea for thought leadership is something that you’re passionate about. If you love what you do and truly believe in your thinking, that’ll translate into everything you do. It’ll be your driver (and often your ‘why’, if you’re a fan of Sinek). There’s nothing quite like seeing someone fizzing about their subject of choice. Excitement is infectious – your reader and viewers will get a sense of that and your ideas will immediately reach out to people that little bit more.
Plenty of ideas can be a good fit for thought leadership. What’s most important is that your idea or ideas are adding something new to the conversation while providing your audience with value and something that they can then go on to implement themselves. Are you solving a problem for them? Or even creating a new opportunity they might not have identified before? If you’re thinking of the people you want to have an impact on, then you’ll soon be leading them to your version of better.
With thought leadership, you get back as much as you give. Sharing your great ideas and thinking means you’ll probably get that and more back from the people following you. Giving people the ideas that have your expertise, thinking, and passion behind them can elevate you from a simple expert to a true authority in your field.