I was dubbed a “thought leader” several years ago, and the employer who insisted I become one immediately regretted it. Having thought leaders on your staff seems to be a terrific idea. Who doesn’t want to buy products and services from the brightest and the best?
Unfortunately, as with so many things, many business leaders don’t think it through completely. Before you insist your employees become thought leaders, you should recognize:
1. You can’t tell thought leaders what to think.
Perhaps the biggest mistake employers make is trying to tailor the thought leader’s articles, blogs, and speeches to the company’s agenda; that’s not thought leadership, that’s propaganda. Thought leaders are deemed as such because they have a different worldview, not because they are part of a hackneyed guerilla marketing campaign.
2. Thought leadership is scary.
People tend to gravitate toward the familiar. Reading an article that confirms your belief that the greatest scientific minds in Alpha Centauri are responsible for crop circles is comforting and enjoyable. Thought leadership challenges deep-seated beliefs and scares people, and when you employ thought leaders you risk scaring away potential customers of course the reason companies want to employ thought leaders is that it attracts customers looking for truly leading edge products and services; true and current expertise.
3. Thought leaders offend people.
Thought leadership means living on the edge. Some companies are satisfied with appealing to 35 percent of the market. Those are the companies that should employ thought leaders.
If you are worried that your thought leader is going to say or do something that will harm your brand or alienate customers with whom you are desperate to do business, you’re better off with a more traditional approach to marketing.
4. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.
Too many executives fail to recognize the publishing process. I am writing words, phrases, and even the title of the article that you may never see. Why? Because the nature of true publishing (as opposed to self-publishing) is collaborative and strongly vetted.
Before this article is published I will have paid a private editor to work on it before I submit it to Entrepreneur, where it will be reviewed and vetted (an editor decides if it is good enough to be included in the magazine) and, hopefully, accepted. It is then assigned to an editor who, by the way, does a lot more than correct grammar and punctuation. The editor may not like my particular word usage and change it, decide to reorder or eliminate paragraphs, and even add content.
I have been fortunate, in that the editors with whom I have worked have for the most part exponentially improved the quality of my work, but I have had a couple of instances where the replacement of a word or two has changed the context of the article. Titling an article is generally the job of the copy editor and this too can change the entire context away from the author’s intended message.
In short, a published article is a team effort built on trust and respect, not on a company’s marketing message.