Are we in the age of thought leadership because we live in an era when opinions are presented as news that we don’t much trust what we hear anymore?
Or is it because social media – where people can say just about anything – has become such a pervasive part of our lives that we are searching for credible, dependable, and reliable sources of information?
The credible, dependable, and reliable sources of information many are turning to today are the thought leaders of their industry. Thought leaders may be organizations or individuals that others recognize as an authority on a subject. What they say is viewed as important, worth heeding, and valuable.
Because of this, thought leaders, whether individuals or organizations, can benefit from their respected status. But before we discuss those benefits, let’s take a short peek at the history of thought leaders and thought leadership.
As recently as the 1950s and 1960s, thought leaders were primarily found in academia. They might be professors or scientists recognized as experts in their field. Or it could be a university specializing in some sort of research or a particular subject.
As noted in an earlier post, although the term “thought leader” was first coined in the late 1800s, it lay dormant until the 1980s. That’s when Silicon Valley took flight, and with it came one thought leader after another.
However, in the past two or three decades, businesses and businesspeople in other industries have sought to become thought leaders as well. In fact, these people and organizations – think Tesla and Elon Musk as examples – are some of the most notable thought leaders the world has ever seen.
So, what are the benefits of thought leadership? How, for example, has it benefited Tesla and Musk?
Among the benefits of thought leadership are the following:
The word “earned” is crucial here. Thought leaders must earn the trust of consumers and other followers. Tesla and Musk are recognized as experts on electric cars and, more than that, the future of automobiles and personal travel. They earned this trust by the excellence of their products and the people behind the product. Once a business has earned customer trust, customers buy from that business, which leads us to the next benefit of thought leadership.
Tesla has experienced massive growth and profitability in the past few years. Yes, its cars are expensive, but those who can afford to purchase them buy them because they believe in the product and in Musk. And that’s not all. Tesla and Musk’s thought leadership stature has affected other car manufacturers as well. GM, for example, was not planning to go electric for another few years. Seeing what Tesla has accomplished has made GM invest heavily in electric now.
Blogging and publishing are typically how thought leaders begin their journey to becoming influential. They regularly publish helpful information that engages their target audience. This information is posted on their websites, on LinkedIn profiles (both personal and company), and in trade publications.
In time, the process takes on a life of its own. Other people believe what they say is important and credible. The media begins to recognize these individuals and organizations as thought leaders. They are called on to address issues and express their views on industry changes, trends, and challenges.
Now an even larger audience begins to take notice of the individual or organization. The more this happens, the greater the “top-of-mind awareness” that the brand achieves among customers and prospects.
When an organization is viewed as a thought leader and has earned the trust and respect of its industry, this stature makes the organization’s mission clear and fills those who work for the company with a sense of pride. This translates into positive attitudes toward the organization, healthier work attitudes and habits, and a sense of belonging, creating an overall positive working environment. Plus, when those who work for an organization know they are working for an industry thought leader, they are more willing to go the extra step to promote the brand and the products and services it offers.
Of course, none of these benefits happens overnight. Tesla started in 2003 and struggled with different owners and financial losses for years. Its stature as an industry thought leader did not evolve until about five or six years ago.
Becoming a thought leader takes time. Don’t even start if you can’t give it at least a year to blossom. But when it does, expect it to be a significant turning point in your life and the life of your organization.
For more than twenty years, Robert Kravitz has been working with people and organizations helping them become and then excel as Thought Leaders in their respective industries. He can be reached at LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kravitzrobert.