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Your Guide to Selecting the Next Thought Leader for Your Company

GuideToCompanyThoughtLeader 2.58.36 PM.jpgWhen you’re part of a team of smart and talented people, selecting one person to represent your brand as a thought leader can be challenging — so challenging that you might feel your best bet is to stall your efforts. You don’t want to risk making the wrong decision, so maybe you delay making any decision (at least for now).

But an approach like this delays more than just a decision; it delays the lifetime ROI of thought leadership and the time value of your content.

Your company has a lot to gain from thought leadership. From increased industry influence and credibility to lead generation and sales enablement, thought leadership can elevate your company and its bottom line. But it all starts with the selection of a thought leader, and to do that, you need to know what a successful one looks like.

Qualities of a Successful Thought Leader

Just like there’s more than one way to become a thought leader, there’s more than one role or position that a thought leader can occupy. That’s because successful thought leadership is less about whether your thought leader is a CEO and more about the individual qualities he or she possesses.

At Influence & Co., we’ve worked with thought leaders in dozens of industries and niches who occupy a variety of positions within their companies, and some of the most successful ones share these three traits and abilities: 

  • They have a wealth of industry knowledge and unique insight.

    Thought leadership is a long-term strategy that’s going to be really hard to execute if your thought leader only has a handful of ideas to share. Unique experience and insight helps differentiate your thought leader (and your brand), and staying up-to-date with industry trends keeps your content fresh over time.
  • They’re good storytellers.

    All the knowledge and insight in the world won’t mean a whole lot if your thought leader doesn’t know how to share them with others in a compelling way. Good storytellers have a strong voice, know exactly who their audiences are, and understand how to communicate their messages to those audiences in a way that keeps them engaged.
  • They understand the value of content.

    Understanding the value of content marketing empowers thought leaders to be stronger, more collaborative, and more effective partners in the content process. They get why they’re doing this in the first place and how to make sure they’re working toward the right goals in the long term.

How to Find the Right Thought Leader for Your Team

If your company is anything like ours, you might notice that more than one member of your team could be a successful thought leader — and that’s totally fine. In fact, it’s a great opportunity. The more options you have, the more carefully you can select the thought leader that’s right for your company and your content goals. Here’s how to find the right one for your team:

1. Forget about titles.

There are amazing thought leaders who are CEOs or founders, therefore, CEOs and founders are amazing thought leaders. Sound familiar?

Companies fall victim to this common misunderstanding all the time. Yes, CEOs and founders can (and often do) make terrific thought leaders. But that’s not a guarantee across the board, and it doesn’t mean team members who aren’t CEOs or founders would make bad thought leaders. So forget about titles for a minute, and look past the C-suite for people who share the qualities of a successful thought leader.

2. Look for your team’s natural teachers.

Thought leadership isn’t an ego play; it’s a vehicle for educating others and advancing the conversations happening in your space. (Don’t get me wrong — done right, it benefits your company, too. But its purpose is to help others.) And if you’re looking to educate, doesn’t it make sense to recruit your team’s natural teachers for help?

Someone who is patient and values her team’s growth enough to teach others and explain ideas is someone you want contributing content. Not only will she be better at sharing ideas in a way your audience can understand, she’ll likely make a better partner in the content creation process.

3. Communicate the benefits of their involvement in ways they’ll each understand.

Ah, the age-old question “What’s in it for me?” It’s one your clients need answered before they work with you, and it’s one your thought leader wants answered before he or she signs on. How will this benefit the company? Their own brand? What are they going to get out of this strategy? And why exactly are you asking each of them?

You know the benefits of thought leadership, and you’re looking at these people for a reason. Be transparent about what’s at stake and why their involvement is so critical to your success, and remember to personalize your communication to each person to help them see (from their own perspectives) why this would be a win for your whole team.

4. Consider their time and ability to prioritize.

A busy schedule shouldn’t disqualify the experts you’ve identified from becoming thought leaders. Some of the best thought leaders we work with (as clients and on our own team) have a lot on their plates. That’s part of the deal when you select someone with a lot of experience and valuable things to say: They’re probably going to be busy.

Plenty of would-be thought leaders miss out on opportunities by making the excuse that they’re so busy, they just don’t have enough time for thought leadership. In your selection, remember that they may not have hours’ worth of extra time every week, but they should be willing to prioritize thought leadership — especially if they understand what your company has to gain.

5. Put them to the test.

With a short list in hand, it’s time to narrow your options. A simple, effective way to do that? Give your thought leaders a chance to shine on your company blog.

Write a post (or series of articles) for your blog that requires a quote, story, or example from each of your potential thought leaders, and include their contributions in your company’s content. It’s low-risk because it’s content you own and control, yet it gives you the chance to see how they’ll work when the time comes to collaborate on content.

Who was the easiest person to work with? Who provided the best insight? What did you like or dislike about the process with each person? And beyond your personal interactions, how did the content itself perform? Did your audience respond particularly well to any specific contribution? The answers to these questions should help you narrow down your list to the right thought leader for your team.

Investing in thought leadership is an important decision, and much of its success depends on who you select as your thought leader. Fortunately, your team is full of potential thought leaders: industry veterans, experts, storytellers, natural teachers, and others with valuable ideas to share. With this guide, finding him or her may have just gotten a lot simpler.

Want to learn more about what it takes to build thought leadership within your company? Download your free guide below to get started:

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About Nickie Bartels

I love cloudy days, office supplies, and rewatching the same sitcoms I've already seen a dozen times. When I'm not looking for ways to elevate content, I'm looking for opportunities to tell stories about my dog.

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