Unlocking your unique thought leadership: Why one-size-fits-all approaches don’t work

There’s a still-popular proverb that all roads lead to Rome, which – figuratively speaking – means that that all choices, methods, or actions eventually lead to the same result. There are many paths to get there. We’ve certainly found this to be true for thought leadership.

We’ve seen some thought leaders achieve great impact with their books, others lean into their speaking careers first, while others still are all about growing a tribe (read: database). Still other thought leaders go all in on social media and make that work, while others go incredibly niche and personalised. And while any of these tactics might be the most outwardly visible manifestation of their thought leadership activity, it’s guaranteed that if they’ve achieved significant success that singular push is not all they’re doing.

While it’s reassuring to have a prescriptive process, or some practical step-by-step method to follow, the challenge is that a cookie-cutter approach creates a cookie cutter type of thought leader.  The ideas might differ, but too much of the packaging appears the same. Not only is that selling yourself short, it’s nowhere near as effective! Yet, if there’s no prescribed path to follow, how do you approach building thought leadership in a way that’s not overwhelming?

Finding a framework for structure

Ideally you’re looking for something that gives you structure – that helps you know where to start and the steps available to you, while allowing you to make choices. Likely it’s about a proven framework ahead of a step-by-step process. That’s certainly what we’ve gravitated towards, as it allows our thought leaders to bring their individual flair to achieving results.  We’ve seen better outcomes realised when there is scope for people to change the order of when they do certain activities based on their priorities, and so that what they’re doing reflects who they are. A good framework should feel supportive far more than it is restricting, and it should be motivating – allowing you to follow your energy, while ensuring the structure is there to get you to your desired outcomes.

In our experience, there are four important pillars that are vital in building thought leadership. We call these the “4 Cs” and they consist of clarity, consistency, concepts and community. They can provide a solid sensecheck for the approach you’re taking to build thought leadership too.

Ask yourself:

  Does the approach you’re taking allow for you to gain Clarity, first and foremost?

  Does it help you to act with Consistency, make progress and move forward with momentum?

  Does it encourage and support you to continuously make your ideas or Concepts better?

  And is it helping you to build Community along the way?

If it’s doing all that, you’re well on your way. Remember though: the magic ingredient in any of your thought leadership is you!

Letting your uniqueness shine

Just like the best thinking allows for nuance and varied perspectives, effective thought leadership shouldn’t come straight out of the box. We need more diverse thinking than that.

Furthermore, it’s the fact that you or your business are unique that brings a great deal of the value to your thought leadership. Following the same set path, to the letter, takes away some of what makes you special. For thought leaders to be as effective as they can be, their thought leadership should be authentic to them and aligned to who they are and how they want to show up in the world.

Thought leadership is a long game; it takes time and consistency, so you’re much more likely to keep showing up and commit to the work required if the way you’re approaching thought leadership stems from your unique strengths and skillsets. It should feel authentic and comfortable. This doesn’t mean it will always be easy – and in fact, you should be constantly challenging yourself and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone – but it should also align with and reflect your personality.

We have a client who is due to launch a book soon and the idea of having to show up personally, and post frequently, on social media filled him with intense dread. He didn’t feel like he could do it in a way that was authentic or aligned with who he was. The outcome he wanted to achieve – a successfully launched and leveraged book – didn’t need to change, but instead we came up with alternative tactics. Things that put the emphasis elsewhere. His social channels are being better utilised for very targeted and personalised outreach. He’s going to lean further into paid advertising to promote the book. And he will proactively developing a speaking career to bring further leverage.

As another example, the idea of standing up and speaking to an audience on stage (or even direct to camera) – from my script alone – is enough to send me into cold sweats. If that was the prescribed path to building thought leadership, I would very quickly opt out. However, I have discovered that I don’t mind being a part of a panel discussion or being interviewed on a podcast – formats that feel more like a conversation. Leaning into those activities still isn’t easy or 100% comfortable for me, but they are tolerable ways that I can still get my thinking out there and use my voice in service of what I care about.

As my example attests, there are also better returns to be had if you’re investing your time and efforts into the places where you already have some proficiency. If the success of my thought leadership rested squarely on my ability to woo a crowd from a stage, I would have a very steep uphill battle ahead of me. It would take a LOT of training and personal development work for that to be something that I am competently and capably able to do. The herculean effort required would also likely be consuming. Getting runs on the board in less taxing ways enables me to make more progress towards my objectives.

No one right way – and no one type of person

While we’re not offering a foolproof step-by-step that you can follow blindly to become a thought leader, there is comfort from the corresponding proof that there’s also not only one type of person who becomes a thought leader. There’s often a perception that thought leaders are particular types – loud, confident, charismatic and relatively sure of themselves – but we’ve seen numerous examples of the quiet and considered, and those who most certainly couldn’t be classified as bringing bluster or bravado, achieve incredible impacts through their ideas.

So, the main takeaway – the best path to building thought leadership is not in trying to be something that you’re not. It is 100% possible to achieve your objectives and create positive change in a way that feels aligned with who you are and how you want to show up in the world. And if you’d like help to explore further how to do this, just reach out.