Honest Question: Have You Got What it Takes to Be a Thought Leader?

Jul 5, 2017

Thought leadership is arguably one of the most powerful assets in an organization’s or individual’s public relations strategy. Yet relatively few companies go after the thought leader mantle, even if they have articulate, charismatic, true believers leading their organizations.

Often these potential thought leaders are kept preoccupied managing the present or near-future, while others who have an eye on the longer-term are hesitant to put their true thoughts out there, especially in the buttoned up world of business. And so, intriguing perspectives never see the light of day, including those that could establish a company or person as an industry player to watch.

By contrast, if you do a fair amount of thinking about the future, are amenable to investing time and effort into building your thought leadership profile and you’re willing to shake things up in your industry–then yes, you have the makings of a thought leader.

So where do you go from here? First, decide on what you want to be known for. Then decide on a correlating cause to champion. Let’s look at a well-known role model who has this approach down cold.

Thought leadership, Elon Musk-style

He’s extraordinarily rich, has a tempestuous romantic life and an unusual name. But above all, Elon Musk is an entrepreneurial futurist. That’s what people think first about Elon Musk, and that’s no accident.

I’ve long studied Musk’s thought leadership mode of operation and have distilled it to a simple pattern. First, he warns of a dire likelihood if humanity doesn’t get its act together. This generates significant buzz and fear. After a suitable amount of time has passed, Musk then follows up with a proposed solution.

Example: society will collapse when we run out of fossil fuels. Solution: Hyperloops that transport us at 700+ miles per hour.

Another example: society will collapse if artificial intelligence takes over the earth. Solution: merge human brains with artificial intelligence.

It’s all very calculated and strategic, and potential thought leaders should take note. Because it’s also undeniably effective. (By the way, Musk’s ideas have actual potential, fantastical as they seem. Take note of that, as well.)

How to find your thought leadership mojo

Here at Amendola I’ve developed a list of questions to provoke thought leadership thinking. I’ll share some of them here; for the full list, and more info about how Amendola builds and promotes thought leadership profiles; email me.

Question #1: If you could sound one alarm in your industry, what would it be?

Question #2: Do you have a minority and under-reported view of an industry topic that is significantly at odds with the widely held and established view?

Question #3: If you could rally your industry with one inspiring message or goal, what would it be?

These questions will likely prompt some interesting thinking, which leads to the next step what to do with these profound thoughts. In brief, you should put them into blog posts, articles, interviews, presentations and more, with a solid PR strategy to help promote your thought leadership message.

Thought leader-in-training

Another piece of advice: if you have the makings of a thought leader, start building your profile now. It’s not an overnight process, at all. In fact, it takes time to nail down your message in quote-friendly language, and to cultivate a media-favorite persona. My colleague Marcia Rhodes gives some good tips on the latter in her post “Be a Media Darling.”

Consider investing in media training, as well. In addition to our writing and PR services for thought leaders, Amendola offers in-depth media training, facilitated by experts with years of media experience in television, radio, newspapers and the internet.

It covers a lot, including:

  • Body language and verbal best practices
  • Tips for devising a memorable interview message
  • Tips for assuring your quote gets published
  • How to steer the interview back to your core messages when the interview meanders

And much more. The media training can be as short as one hour to longer, depending on your needs. We typically offer this training as a core component of our PR programs.

Don’t forget another time-tested public speaking strategy: joining Toastmasters.

In her post “Public Speaking Tips for the Timid and the Talented,” my colleague Michelle Noteboom details how participation in Toastmasters has upped her speaking game and given her newfound confidence.

Here is how Michelle recounts it: “Almost a year ago, one of my Amendola mentors encouraged me to join Toastmasters to further hone my speaking skills. While I was initially skeptical would everyone be a nerd? Or shy introverts with no personality? Perhaps retirees with nothing better to do? I have been pleasantly surprised by the mix of people in my club. It includes a variety of professionals in diverse careers, all of whom are fun and dedicated to self-improvement.”

She adds, “Toastmasters has given me the opportunity to deliver prepared speeches once or twice a month, as well as speak extemporaneously on random subjects. It’s provided an excellent forum for practicing speech organization and delivery, and for receiving feedback that pushes me to strive for continuous improvement.”

So there you have it a formula for success as a thought leader: an interest in the longer term, a willingness to shake things up in your industry, a solid PR plan, and a plan to practice until you’re close to perfect in your message delivery.

That’s really what it takes to be a thought leader. All that’s left is for you to take the leap and start becoming one.