Has your organization put ‘thought leadership’ as one of its goals for 2021? You’re not alone. Increasingly, I’m hearing from organizations of all types and sizes that are prioritizing thought leadership, understanding that building a reputation as forward-thinking, standing out for their expertise, adding value through advocating for and advancing change in their industry or society – these are all ways that organizations build trust and attract the right customers, partners and employees to their door.
But when an organization expects their top performers to suddenly become thought leaders overnight, that might be a bit unrealistic – after all, we don’t expect even the top actors in the world to perform on Broadway without a little rehearsal time. Appearing on a stage as a panelist or speaker, posting an article to a highly trafficked site, or becoming a spokesperson representing one’s organization is no less terrifying to employees than a Broadway opening night. So, let’s think about what might be required to get them ready for showtime.
Writing a great script – or article, white paper, case study, speech, blog post – is time-consuming, even if you’re Shakespeare. Are employees encouraged to take the (paid) time they need to do the deep thinking and iterating required to turn out a masterpiece? Is there time built into the end of every project or product launch so the team can come together to distill the lessons learned that can then be turned into thought leadership content?
No actor would go on stage without a soundcheck, make-up, and a lighting designer making sure they look great. Is there support staff waiting in the wings to help team members produce high-quality content in multiple formats? These might include ghostwriters, editors, knowledge management experts, videographers, sound engineers, speech coaches, media trainers, and even thought leadership strategists.
The producer’s role in the theater is to oversee the financial and managerial aspects of the production. (You knew that, didn’t you?) Having a producer in place to oversee the production and distribution of the organization’s content is often something that gets overlooked. A good producer can make sure everyone’s content is aligned to agreed-upon key themes/messaging, that together it creates a point of view, and that it appears in the relevant venues where the relevant audience is listening.Of course, the producer must have enough time and the necessary resources to do this role well on top of all the other elements in their job description! One leader I spoke with was assigned the producer role on top of the two other jobs she already had…needless to say thought leadership is not getting done.
The best scripts in the world never make it to opening night without a lot of changes. Are there opportunities for team members to come together to workshop their ideas, strengthen the best ideas and discard the rest? I recommend the ‘care-frontation’ model that I learned about from Joe Galvin of Vistage – where team members are invited to give each other constructive, honest feedback on their blog or presentation but to do so with kindness so that no one gets discouraged and no one’s ego gets bruised.
Finally, every great production requires a committed and hopefully experienced director. That’s where the CEO comes in. I have yet to see long-term success for any organizational thought leadership initiative without the deep commitment of the CEO or at least the General Manager of a large division. And if this senior leader is walking the talk by stepping onto the stage and the page themselves, all the better. Serving as a role model for the team on what thought leadership should look like, and then cheering on those who take the baton, is the single best way to create the cultural change necessary to achieve your thought leadership goals this year.
Want to learn more? Watch my Organizational Thought Leadership course on LinkedIn Learning. And please share your own ideas in the comments — what you have found is required to create a successful thought leadership initiative in your organization?