Discover more from Hypergrowth Leadership with Carilu
How to Fake Thought Leadership
And how to do it for real if you want
In order to be “part of the conversation” in business, companies need to bring a point of view to the table that is interesting, informative, and provocative. In our dream world, we have an industry luminary within our companies that is sitting around thinking huge intriguing thoughts of the future, or CTO that is so far ahead of the industry that our product is revolutionary. For many companies, this ‘being so far ahead in real innovation’ or having a luminary isn’t in the current deck of cards. They may be doing things that are interesting and super helpful for their customers but aren’t pushing the market conversation forward in a significant way. So how do you fake it if you don’t authentically have a thought leadership POV or proof yet?
How to Fake Thought Leadership
Ask experts and summarize their knowledge - When I was in my 20s, I dreamed of having an article in the Harvard Business Review. I needed to get an MBA, do some amazing research, have it peer reviewed and submit it to HBR. #NerdLifeGoals. And then one week I saw an article by another 20-something in HBR! He had interviewed 10 influential people and summarized their advice on life and business. WTF. He cheated. Or did he? He had a good idea to summarize others’ thought leadership in a convenient package. Sometimes thought leadership is picking out the signal in the noise for other people or magnifying great thought leadership.
Do a market survey and summarize that knowledge - Surveys were the bread and butter of PR for many years. Don’t have something PR-worthy to say on your own? Have a POV by sharing what the market is saying. Provide unique data on your topic no one else has. Even better - keep running data surveys and highlight the trends over time. In the mid 2010s, Zillow hired a chief economist and published quarterly insights on what was happening in the real estate market and did quarterly updates informing the world of the real estate economic trends. They got regular spots on broadcast TV for their real estate software company by brining unique insights that were widely relevant to broader economic conversations.
Carve out an hour / a day / a week / a project and just do some deep reading, deep thinking and writing - There are no shortcuts to thought leadership. You need to ingest a lot of information,have thoughts and analyze those thoughts vs the other thoughts of experts / in the market. Part of the problem for companies and individuals is making time to actually do it. It’s important but not urgent. The people I most admire have structured much of their thought leadership around writing. They have a habit to sit down a few times a week or month and spend time thinking and organizing their thoughts through words. Many of these people say that the act of writing helps them DEVELOP the thought leadership, not just capture it to share.
How to do it for real
If you’re a Founder/CEO wondering how to get your company to do better thought leadership, there are four key aspects I’ve seen work time and again.
1. Make it a priority project and staff / resource it as such
- Thought leadership often gets deprioritized amidst all the competing projects. But it’s LEADERSHIP. If your executive team has real thought leadership about your market category, it will affect your product strategy, your corporate narrative, your go-to-market approach, the way your sales people engage prospects. Bill Gates famously took a week off a year to go sit on an island in the Pacific Northwest to read and think ahead of the market. Thought leadership is the fuel for strategy. You need to have it be an explicit part of someone's job or time — maybe a CIO / CTO, maybe a business strategy team, maybe a strong CMO. Someone needs to crystalize how the world, your market, your audience’s needs are evolving and what’s ahead that they aren’t even thinking about yet.
2. Hire an agency that does that type of work to guide you
There are a number of great agencies that do different aspects of the thought leadership - market strategy, corporate narrative, PR / communications, futurists, economists. They are often expensive if they are good.
3. Hire an evangelist from your industry
In a PR person’s dream world, the CEO is the chief evangelists. Or if you sell to an ICP, your executive in that field is the chief evangelist (CHRO → HR, CMO → Marketing, CIO → techies). But in real life, the C-suite is overwhelmed by priorities and has a hard time carving out the time to create the thought leadership and be an external evangelist. They may fit it small amounts into pockets. But a breakthrough strategy is to have a dedicated evangelist. Someone who can and wants to speak at as many conferences as possible, write frequently, talk to press anytime, talk with customers and prospects to stay close to what’s new, and network with other companies and evangelists. Many companies hire someone who is already an evangelist to bring their following to the company. Historically, many tech companies have hired an analyst from a firm like Garntner, Forrester, IDC or others to bring their market perspective and thought-leadership evangelism to the company already in tact. Recently, 6Sense hired Kerry Cunningham, of Sirius Decisions and Forrester fame to talk to marketers for instance. The pro is that these people already know how to do the job and are proven. The con is that they can be very expensive, and can sometimes have allegiance to their own following and brand more than the company’s brand. Another spin on the same strategy is to…
4. Allocate headcount for an internal evangelist / step-up candidate
At Atlassian, my head of comms, Heather Staples had a brilliant idea to invite Dominic Price from our enginering team to take a tour of duty in comms as an official evangelist. We used one of our headcount, forgoing a PR hire to pay his salary for a 6 month experiment. Our CEOs were in Australia, insanely busy and not often available for press and external evangelism, especially on US hours. They also didn’t have the passion and interest. Scott Farquhar once told me he wanted us to do more press but could only dedicate a few meeting slots a month. Dom was FANTASTIC. He knew our company, products, market and ICP inside out, was an amazing speaker and a fun person. He had relationships across the company so he could harvest any information and insights from other people who had thought leadership but lacked the skill to deliver it. He was fully dedicated, so he had TIME. The experiment was a fantastic success. His 6 months turned into 7 years as Atlassian’s Work Futurist. He has spoken with Richard Branson at several conferences, he has a Ted talk, he’s now a paid keynote speaker who donates his speaker fees to worthy causes. He’s the man. Having him think, write, speak and network full-time was a game changer for us and a fantastic investment. Pick the right person, but consider picking a dedicated person.
Parting thoughts - Just do it
Thought leadership is a critical part of hypergrowth company’s success in getting awareness, delivering innovative, differentiated products, being loved by influencers, keeping customers engaged and confident and growing rapidly. Thought leadership isn’t something you can delegate to a junior person in Public Relations. It requires prioritization, time, resources and sustained effort. It’s part of the C-suite’s key job, even though it’s not as urgent and demanding as other issues. It’s difficult to secure the resources and carve out the time, but it wil continue to be a key driver of the leaders that emerge on the other side of this economic moment.
Thanks for reading. Subscribe now to receive new posts and support my work.