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Purpose vs. presence: How to develop strategic thought leadership
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Every business leader has something to say. This is true regardless of whether their organization is big or small, or whether they’re seasoned executives, startup leaders, and even physicians or scientists. 

But saying anything, just to say something, is a mistake. 

The “purpose vs. presence” debate emerges here. Much like the difference between quality and quantity, what you want when you’re developing a thought leadership profile is purpose. Your presence on the stage should have meaning, draw positive attention, and make as thoughtful and original a contribution to discussions as possible. Such an approach is also what helps you stay on brand, from a reputation management standpoint.

There is no blueprint for developing your strategic thought leadership presence. But the following are some of the most common threads of advice we have given to our own clients, to help them tell more effective and impactful stories about themselves and their businesses.

Start with value – and on your values

We’re told throughout our lives to “keep it real,” and really, the only way to do this is to ground ourselves in the principles and values that animate us and keep us going. It may sound lofty or clichéd, but the alternative is saying things that are not in your authentic voice, or that you don’t really mean.

Once you determine the subjects you can speak authentically about, start speaking about them consistently. This doesn’t mean trying to flood the airwaves, per se, but taking as many good opportunities as possible to trigger or add to discussions about your expert topics.

Ditch the corporate-speak

It can be tempting to use up our thought leadership spaces on technical concepts like growth, revenue, strategy, and the like. The problem is that, while important on their own, these are the things that just about everyone is saying, which doesn’t make you stand out. Statistics belong on a PowerPoint – and when your company is doing well, those figures should speak for themselves anyway.

The Harvard Business Review put it quite soberly several years ago. When it comes to a business presence, whoever you are, there’s a million of you. Simply being a technically fluent “expert in your field” won’t cut it for unique thought leadership.

From a personal standpoint, however, there really is only one person like you. With that comes a unique perspective and way of thinking and talking about your company and industry. It’s crucial to use that. This could lend itself to editorial commentary about industry trends, or talking about the special philosophy that drives your business approach.

When it comes to social media posts or internal blog entries, budget your words and sentences carefully, particularly when you’re reposting someone else’s commentary with your own analysis. Aim for a handful of brief paragraphs of LinkedIn or Facebook commentary, not an essay. 

If you’re not online by now, get there

There are various reasons why people are skeptical about getting more active on social media, but it’s next to impossible to maintain a robust thought leadership presence without at least a LinkedIn page you regularly post on. Again, engage your audience in thoughtful analysis or commentary on news and industry insights – and don’t be afraid to get personal and uplifting. 

Other platforms like Instagram or TikTok could work for you, depending on what you are trying to accomplish with them. They’re good for brief, uplifting, or envelope-pushing content designed to appeal to younger or time-pressed audiences. But know exactly what you’re using them for. It isn’t recommended that you deploy these platforms to rehash the content you are posting elsewhere. 

Join other like-minded professionals

Pitching to local print and media outlets through op-eds, interviews, and radio and television appearances is essential as a thought leader. It is also highly beneficial to look for more spaces within your industry to become involved, both locally and through digital spaces that can seamlessly connect you with a global team of peers. 

The Forbes Councils and Business Journals Leadership Trust are a great example of such a targeted, global networking platform. There, you can network with and contribute to joint content within industries like tech and IT, business development, and nonprofits. 

Becoming a thought leader is indispensable for building a reputation both within your field and community as an executive or entrepreneur. Without question, this is a part of brand management that can be tricky to master. But really, all it takes is a willingness to get started. Find your first space to extend your perspectives, and continue building upward from there. Believe that your peers are waiting to hear your next great idea.