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A Matter Of Debate

Three Reasons CEOs Don’t Become Thought Leaders

Andy Crestodina, Nicole France, and Brian Walker

Many CEOs, forever looking to drive growth, curiously overlook one growth driver that is increasingly powerful: thought leadership. Research from Edelman revealed that 64% of B2B CXOs vet organizations through their thought leadership – and for 48% it has directly led to awarding business. This is particularly important in professional services firms, where “thought” is the product, and firm leadership needs to personally represent the best of that thinking. So, why do many CEOs fail to personally engage in such an effective means of brand enhancement, lead generation and new business development?

Here are a few common excuses (and growth-friendly solutions to each):

Your thoughts don’t lead, they follow.
It’s simple: leadership means you lead, out in front of the pack, pointing not to what’s here or what’s behind, but what’s ahead.

Real thought leaders are forward-looking risk-takers who are thinking big about what’s next, and not just for their own organizations. As Nicole France, formerly Head of Thought Leadership for Cisco, put it, “It’s not only about where we’re going to be as a company – that’s something that strategy really defines – but where we think the world is going to be and what we think our role in it will look like.”

To ensure your thinking is future-oriented, share your research and forecasts of what’s coming – and don’t be afraid to include your unique, even provocative perspective on what success will require tomorrow.

You favor monologue over dialogue.

Too many supposed thought leaders are like overly-proud parents, convinced that everyone wants to hear the latest about their amazing brain-child. They exclusively expound on their own ideas or confuse case histories with visionary insights. They lust after giving a TED talk. They want be seen as an expert, but overlook the fact that, in a hyper-crowded marketplace of ideas, it’s easiest to be recognized for your own expertise if you are regularly seen in the intellectual company of other experts.

The opportunity? Don’t just lead with your thoughts; lead conversations. Host a podcast and invite other industry leaders to be guests (especially if they might be prospects). Create a Q&A series for your firm’s blog. Hold a roundtable event and serve as the moderator. Be generous with the limelight. Brian Walker, CEO of AE Marketing and host of the award-winning Brand Lab Series podcast, says, “What excites me most is the effect that it’s had on our bottom line. In our first season we did 36 episodes of the podcast, and in just those first 36 weeks one guest went from being an interviewee to becoming a customer, and one listener did the same.”

You complain there’s no time.
For thought-leader CEOs, it’s not a question of having time (they don’t). It’s a matter of making time.

Some executives are possessed of an extreme pride of authorship and commitment to getting their authentic voice out there – so if they can’t write these articles themselves, they forego them entirely. If you’re one of these DIY CEOs, digital marketing expert Andy Crestodina suggests that you, “Go to bed early. Get up an hour early and do something important before you do something urgent. Write two paragraphs of great advice, which will become a seed for something else. There are millions of other little tactics…copy yourself the next time you write an email that includes good advice. Now you have a folder that will start filling up with practical, useful advice that’s written in a personal tone, and which answers important questions for your audience.”

And while it’s critical to convey your authentic thoughts and voice, that doesn’t mean you can’t get help. One of the best methods is called “video-first content creation.” It simply means that you periodically sit down and have someone interview you, on video, about a key topic. All you have to do is talk about an industry subject that, if you’ve made it to the CEO seat, you already know cold. A good interviewer will walk away with your unique thoughts, your authentic voice and personality, and enough content assets to create multiple short videos, a podcast or two, and several articles.

“It’s not optional.”

It’s not really a matter of if you can become a thought leader; it’s a question of how you commit to getting there. And as a CEO today, you really must get there. After all, an Economist survey reports that 70% of executives are more inclined to do business with companies seen as thought leaders.

As Crestodina says of thought leadership, “The question is, ‘Do you want to be relevant?’ Do you want to leverage your title as an executive to bring fortune and glory to your firm, or do you want to stay on the sidelines and let someone else do it? It’s not optional.”


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Chuck Kent

Chuck Kent

Chief Conversation Officer at Lead the Conversation
Chuck Kent is the Chief Conversation Officer at Lead the Conversation, a content creation consultancy that makes it easier for busy executives to create authentic thought leadership content and lead meaningful industry conversations.
Chuck Kent

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