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Want To Be A Thought Leader? Don’t Do This!
I saw a presentation recently about “how to be a thought leader”. Like all presentations there were some thing I liked, and some things I didn’t. But there was one thing that got me really worked up: advice that I hear repeated again and again that I think is misguided and will take you down the wrong path if you want to be a thought leader.
In this week’s video I highlight the big mistake that often gets recommended, and more importantly, tell you what to do instead if you want to become a real thought leader.
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Hi it’s Ian again. Welcome to these Five Minute Marketing Tips. I was in a talk recently about how to become a thought leader. Like all talks of that nature, there were some things in the talk that I liked and some things in the talk that I didn’t like, but there was one thing that really made me angry. Now, being very polite, I didn’t stick my hand up or interrupt or anything. I just scribbled frantically in my notebook, making notes about what I would say differently. I think what was being advised is a huge mistake, and I want to tell you what you should do instead if you want to be a successful thought leader, because I hear that advice repeated a lot. I’ll see you after the break.
Hi it’s Ian. Welcome back. I know some people don’t like the phrase “thought leader” or “thought leadership”, but irrespective of what you think about the words, I think we can all agree that being seen as a leading expert in your field is a good thing. It gives you access to more clients, better fees, and more interesting and exciting work. When it comes to being seen as a thought leader, one of the pieces of advice that I hear time and time again, and I heard at this talk I was at recently, is that to become a thought leader you have to focus on the pain points of your ideal clients and provide solutions, solve problems.
I disagree with that. I think if all you do is solve problems, then you’re a “thought follower”, not a “thought leader”. If you look at your bookshelf, at all the real thought leaders, the leading experts in any field, they’re not problem solvers. If you look at the field of strategy, people like Michael Porter, C.K. Prahalad, Chan Kim, they didn’t just solve problems. They created new ideas, new concepts, new ways of thinking and looking at strategy that no one had seen before that helped companies completely transform and look at things in different ways and radically change and grow and improve, not just solve problems.
When Bob Waterman and Tom Peters wrote the first real big management bestseller, it wasn’t “In Search of Solutions”, it was “In Search of Excellence”. When Jim Collins wrote his book it wasn’t “Problem to Solved”, it was “Good to Great” because they expressed ambition. They took people’s thinking beyond just sticking plasters and solving the little problems that were there towards really big new ideas and concepts that really made a difference.
I know we can play around with semantics and frame any new great big thing as a solution to a problem. The iPhone was a solution to the problem of, “I don’t have a great smartphone that’s easy to use,” but that’s not the way that the people who came up with these ideas actually thought about it. Tom Peters and Michael Porter didn’t sit there thinking, “What problem can I solve?” They looked bigger, they thought big and creatively.
Of course you start off, and it can be really helpful to you and help inspire you, to really understand the pain points and the problems of your ideal clients. That can trigger your thinking about the big idea you’re coming up with, but you don’t just put sticking plasters over it. For example, when Michael Hammer and James Champy did Reengineering the Corporation, massive big change to the way business was done in the ’90s, what they noticed was that organizations, the dominant model of organizations at the time was functional silos. The problem they saw with functional silos was that it created all sorts of difficulties in communicating across the boundaries of those functional silos and decision making across those functional silos and the speed of doing things across those functional silos.
They didn’t just solve the problem by creating a faster way of communicating and a better way of making decisions across functional silos. They obliterated the functional silos and told organizations to focus on business processes instead. It’s not just about solving problems, it’s about being much more ambitious, aiming for something bigger, a completely new idea, a new framework, a new concept, changing the thinking of your clients, giving them something new they’ve never seen before. That’s what really makes a thought leader, not just solving their existing problems.
Solving problems, I think, is a commodity, but coming up with great brilliant new ideas and concepts, that’s thought leadership. Rant over, but I do advise you when you’re thinking of positioning yourself as an expert, whenever you’re creating content for your website or trying to write, think beyond just solving problems. Think of what great new ideas and concepts and frameworks that you can share with your clients that’s what makes you a real thought leader. Cheers.