What is thought leadership?
Our CEO Richard Moss discusses how to define thought leadership as part of his latest contribution to The Thought Leadership Project.
Here’s an interesting exercise. Get a few of your colleagues together and ask them to tell you the difference between a corporate mission and vision. Once they’ve done that, try business purpose and ambition.
We often run this exercise with clients at the start of our ‘True North’ process, building an aligned long-term vision for business. We normally find that everybody in the room has a slightly different definition!
Using ‘concrete’ rather than ‘vague’ terminology in business is critical for leadership success. How do you expect others to follow you if you haven’t even got them on the same page?
One of our early discoveries on setting up The Thought Leadership Project was that this was another term that has many different and vague meanings. As a piece of corporate terminology, in terms of usage, it is showing stellar growth. But what it means to one individual or business varies widely compared to another. If we are going to improve the effectiveness of the discipline, the first step is clearly to get everybody aligned on what it is!
Over the last few years, the consultants at Good Relations have worked with global businesses, SMEs and individuals on a wide range of ‘Thought Leadership’ assignments. Here are our thoughts on some definitions.
We see effective thought leadership as the process of demonstrating expertise in a subject area, by advancing the debate, in order to gain commercial advantage.
Under this we define three types of thought leadership, by audience:
1. Organisational thought leadership is about leading thinking and demonstrating expertise in a particular industry, market or topic. It is effective when the organisation and its actions are seen to be fully aligned to this thinking. This builds trust in capabilities as well as long-term reputational and sales advantage.
2. Product thought leadership is about leading thinking and demonstrating ‘market advantage’ around a product or service system. For product owners, it is about building usage, co-creation and future alignment with customers. For product or system customers, developers or resellers, it is about demonstrating expertise and foresight, ahead of their competitive set.
3. Individual thought leadership is about positioning an individual as an expert or leader in a particular field e.g. Artificial Intelligence, or a management discipline such as Leadership. It is particularly effective when the individual’s personal story is shown to provide strong foundations to the current platform.