Why thought leadership doesn’t exist

It’s one of those phrases: thought leadership. I mean, thought is good, right? And leadership comes in pretty handy, doesn’t it?

I’ve just been to an event where consultancies were bemoaning the time their businesses spend producing ‘thought leadership’ and the limited results they felt they were getting from it. Yet some of our clients have whole departments devoted to it.

One of the problems is the first word. From time to time, a client will ask us to help write a piece of ‘thought leadership’. ‘Of course’, we say. ‘What’s the subject?’ They tell us. ‘Great, and what are your thoughts on that subject?’, we ask. ‘Oh’, the client says, ‘we thought you’d do that.’

Thought leadership just means ‘having an opinion’. And the most interesting opinions are gleaned from years of experience, plus a little brainpower and reflection. Which means your business’s ‘thoughts’ are unlikely to appear magically out of the air of the marketing department (or their agencies). Instead they’ll come from your practitioners doing what they do best.

So this blog is thought leadership. Or, at least, it’s a thought. If you tell anyone else about it, or our competitors start using the same opinion in their pitches (it happens, trust me), then it’ll be ‘leadership’ too.

Where writers like us can help is expressing those opinions in the most compelling language possible. A good test is whether you can boil your argument down to a pithy wee phrase. One of my favourites is ‘Any company that is serious about corporate responsibility shouldn’t have a CR department’. It’s just an opinion. An intriguing one, a provocative one, but just an opinion. That’s why thought leadership doesn’t exist.

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