Key #1: Change Your Mind About What “Thought Leadership” Is
“But I don’t WANT to be a thought leader!”
You don’t want to do what you think thought leaders do, because when you think about thought leaders, you think of ego-driven, pompous, arrogant jerks who are constantly self-promoting and spamming you.
That’s not thought leadership.
The best thought leadership focuses on your audience, not yourself.
However, that isn’t to say you ignore yourself.
Adam Grant is a Wharton professor and author of Give and Take.
Adam studied over 30,000 professionals and found most have an abundant, sharing mentality–they help others AND expect others will help them, and everyone comes out ahead.
These are matchers.
Not exactly a revolutionary concept, but what else Grant found was there are people who are givers, and on the other end of the spectrum are takers, and people in both of these groups–yes, even the givers–are less successful than the people who see relationships as a matter of give AND take.
Givers fail because they burn out.
Takers fail because everyone hates them.
Many so-called thought leaders are takers in disguise.
They appear to be giving, but then you sign up for their webinar and it’s nothing but a high-pressure sales pitch with no value.
Others are givers, but they give too much and don’t get anywhere because they lack a model that makes their giving sustainable.
Be the matcher type of thought leader.
Key #2: Define Your Vision
Another reason thought leaders burn out is they don’t know what their goal is.
- “I want to write a book.”
- “I want to get more engaged on LinkedIn.”
- “I want to do public speaking.”
All well and good, but why?
- “I have a lot of experience and want to give back, I feel like I have something to share.”
- “I want to grow my business.”
- “I want to help people.”
All good reasons, but how can we get more focused, more specific?
Using your Dream Funnel, answer the question–What do you really want?
However, sometimes it’s easier to answer that question in detail once you understand the other keys to thought leadership, so read on, and then come back to this.
Key #3: Find Your Genius Zone
I have a friend we’ll call Jeff.
Jeff is a smart guy with a lot of talents.
He’s started multiple seven-figure businesses.
He could be a professional artist if he wanted to.
He could do just about anything.
And that’s why he was broke.
Jeff and I trade coaching services.
On our monthly calls we often tell each other about great books we’re reading.
I had just read The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, and I told Jeff about it, especially this concept the author shares about the “genius zone.”
There are actually four zones Hendricks talks about in his book:
- The zone of incompetence: In this zone, you are engaging in something you are simply not good at. This is me trying to dance in the ballet.
- The zone of competence: You can get the job done, but no better than the next person.
- The zone of excellence: In this zone, you are doing something you are very, very good at compared to most other people.
- The zone of genius: When you’re in your genius zone, are in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.” You’re taking advantage of your natural talents and doing what you earnestly enjoy. You have what could almost be called an “unfair advantage” over your competition.
Most of us don’t struggle too much with the first two zones.
Where we get into real trouble is when we allow our expert zone to get in the way of our genius zone, our calling.
My friend Jeff was spending too much time in his expert zone.
He would come across an opportunity and think “I could be good at this.
I could be very good at this,” and then he felt obligated to invest his time and resources into it.
We only discussed The Big Leap for a few minutes, but it changed Jeff’s entire perspective.
The next time we had a call he said “I realized I don’t have to do something just because I’m really good at it.”
Your problem is not that you’re not an expert at anything, but that you’re too good at too many things.
You know too much, and it paralyzes you because you can’t choose between good, better, and best.
That’s a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem.
The antidote is to find your genius zone, the area where you can contribute something truly unique.
To find your genius zone, first identify your expert zones. Here are a few of mine:
You don’t have to be THE BEST at something to be an expert, you just need to be good enough at it, or know enough about it, to help someone who knows nothing.
If you don’t know anything yourself, you can become an expert by researching the topic and staying one step ahead of your audience, or interviewing other experts, so if you’re having trouble coming up with expert zones, list your “interest zones.”
Next, start overlapping your expert zones to find potential genius zones.
For example, I know a few things about thought marketing, but so do a lot of other people.
I know a few things about skateboarding, but so do a lot of other people.
But when you put the two together, I’m in a very small group of people who know as much about marketing and skateboarding.
I haven’t chosen to make that intersection my focus in life–right now I’m focused on thought leadership and LinkedIn, but you get the point.
Your genius zone might be made from combining two areas, or three, or four, or ten.
Your genius zone might be your language + your home country + your college degree + work experience + a hobby, or some completely different combination of skills, traits, and experiences.
The magic of the genius zone is that once you find it, it makes it a lot easier to focus and come up with ideas for content.
It makes it easier to pinpoint who your audience is and speak to them effectively.
It makes your service to your audience much more meaningful and valuable, not to mention fulfilling.
What’s your genius zone?
Key #4: Identify Your Ideal Audience
You now have a clear vision of your future, and what makes you uniquely suited to make that future reality. The next question is who do you need to influence in order to achieve your vision?
Just as you used your expert zones to find your genius zone, you can use a list of potential audiences to find your ideal audience.
As you create your list, the quickest way to to find your ideal audience is to find people who:
- Are like you. All other things being equal, you’ll find it easier to connect and relate to people who are like you, and people who are like you will also connect more quickly to you.
- Want what you are selling. If you’re selling marketing services, then target people who want to buy marketing services. Sounds like common sense, but it’s funny how often we get simple things like this wrong. When considering a potential audience don’t just ask “Does this type of person ever buy what I’m selling?” because the answer will almost always be “Yes, sometimes they do.” Instead, ask “Is what I’m selling a must-have for this person?”
- Are able to buy what you’re selling. People who want what you have and those who will actually buy it are two separate groups. College students may want to buy a $5,000 per month life coaching service, but perhaps successful executives with $10M in their bank accounts are an easier sell.
- Energize you. If you spent a day speaking to your audience at an event, or writing a book for them, would you be drained at the end of the day and never want to do it again, or would you wake up the next morning excited to do it all over again? If working with your audience drains you, it may be you’re not working with them the right way (see System 4: Content) but it also may be you’ve chosen the wrong audience to focus on.
Brainstorm a list of all your potential audiences. Even if you’re pretty sure they’re not going to be your ideal audience, list them out anyway to make sure you’re not missing anyone.
A short list of my potential audiences might look like this:
For example, one of my recent client’s lists included:
- Business associates
- Poor people
- Leukemia children and families
- Former execs turned entrepreneurs
Now, begin to overlap your audiences.
If I were overlapping my audiences, I might look at my experience with marketing and writing my book Chief Marketing Officers at Work, as well as my background in China, overlap those to say “Maybe I should focus on CMOs in China, or CMOs doing business with China.”
In the case of my client, she overlapped several potential audiences to reach the conclusion that her ideal audience is successful, female, Asian entrepreneurs who want to expand their businesses to China.
This is exactly who she is, as well, with the one difference being that she already has experience expanding businesses into China, so she is in a great position to help her ideal audience do the same.
Who is your ideal audience?
Key #5: Create Compelling Content
As I talk about creating content you may say “But I wasn’t trained as a writer,” or “I’m not a video expert.”
I also didn’t go to journalism or writing school, and yet I’ve written hundreds of articles for some of the best known publications in the world.
I don’t consider myself a video expert, and yet I’ve made videos that have gone viral and been seen hundreds of thousands of times.
You don’t need to be an expert at creating content to create content that will establish you as an expert.
“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”– Mark Twain
In addition, we need to redefine what “content” is.
Your content is more than a blog post, a book, or a video.
It’s everything you do.
It’s your example, your actions, or lack thereof.
If you wake up early every day and work out, and tell your friend about your morning routine, that’s content.
If you abstain from alcohol at business events people will notice, and that’s content.
If you write in your journal, that’s content as well.
You are a content machine!
Now let’s put that machine to use to create the impact you want to see in the world.
The first step to create compelling content is to decide what your message will be.
Once you have that message, every piece of content you create for your ideal audience should reinforce that message.
During WWII, Churchill’s message to his audience, the British people, was “We are going to win.”
Gandhi’s message to the people of India, as well as the British people, was “We deserve to be free.”
Mother Teresa’s message was “One person can make a difference.”
Bringing it a little closer to earth, Gary Vaynerchuk’s message is “If you’re a young entrepreneur here’s how to be successful.”
Amy Porterfield’s is “If you’re an entrepreneur I will teach you how to build email lists and create online courses.”
For Ramit Sethi it’s “If you’re a millennial I will teach you how to manage your finances and become rich.”
As you think about your own message for your ideal audience, bear in mind your message will be more effective if it is:
- Customer-centric. It’s not about you, it’s about your customer. Your customer is the hero in this story and you are the guide.
- Must-have. You solve a problem. What makes the result you deliver a must-have for your audience?
- Wrapped in a story. We evolved to pay attention to stories. Stories will capture your audience’s attention.
- Credible. How can we make your message more credible? In a court of law, credibility comes from evidence and witnesses. What evidence and witnesses can we produce to back up your message?
- Individualized. The most effective message is delivered in person, one-on-one. It may not always, or ever, be possible for you to deliver your message that way, but how can we get as close as possible?
We’re not done with content yet! You now have your message, but how are you going to deliver it to your audience?
What’s your channel?
The place where you deliver your message is your channel.
10,000 years ago cavemen painted on the cave wall as their channel.
Today you can write a book, article, or social media post, speak on a podcast or on the stage, film a video for YouTube, or choose from a hundred other channels.
While the act of creating a message and delivering it to your audience is fundamental marketing and never changes, the channels are changing every day.
The easy part for this blog post is that we’ve already chosen the channel–LinkedIn.
How to create compelling content.
Many books have been written about how to create great content, so I’ll only provide a few high-level observations.
First, just do it.
Your first attempts at creating content are likely to fall flat.
You’ll do things wrong.
You’ll make mistakes.
It’s ok, everyone does.
This quote from Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, holds true as well for content as it does for building products.
If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late. — Reid Hoffman
Second, keep it simple.
If you make things complicated, you’ll never get started.
One great feature on LinkedIn is that you’re limited to 1,300 characters for a LinkedIn post, so you can’t go on too long.
BTW, for now ignore LinkedIn articles. They were once great but now they get no traction. Perhaps in the future they will be great again.
Third, tell a story.
You could dive into the Hero’s Journey, but I like the simpler 7-step framework developed by Donald Miller, author of Storybrand. It works like this:
- A character… (What do they want? This is your customer, client, audience, etc.)
- With a problem… (external, internal, philosophical)
- Meets a guide… (Who understands–empathy, authority. This is you.)
- Who gives them a plan… (Create a three-step plan and summarize it)
- That calls them to action (What’s the call to action?) and results in:
- Success… (List successful results.)
- Or failure (List tragic results.).
The biggest mindshift for me when I learned the Storybrand approach was to remember to always make the customer the hero of the story.
If this is Star Wars then your customer is Luke Skywalker and you’re Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Here’s how this works in practice on LinkedIn, here’s a post you can go create, right now:
What’s your main purpose for being on LinkedIn?
I’ve been thinking about why I’m here, and here’s what I’ve come up with…[insert your thoughts here].
So that’s me, but I’d love to know why you’re here and how I can help. What’s your reason for using LinkedIn right now?
I often start my LinkedIn posts with a question.
This makes it obvious to anyone who sees my post, even if only for a second, that I want people to comment, and comments on posts are the key to attention on LinkedIn.
My question also focuses on my audience, rather than myself.
I want people to feel comfortable commenting and talking about themselves in their comments.
But I also give my own thoughts as a guide, to help others see what type of comment they can leave.
Then I ask the question again, just to make sure they know I want them to comment.
Here’s another LinkedIn post you can copy and paste:
Who has been kind to you in your professional life?
Maybe a boss, coworker, maybe a stranger on LinkedIn. Here’s my story…
[tell a story about someone being nice or kind to you in a professional setting]
What’s your story about someone being nice to you in a professional setting?
What’s your biggest LinkedIn pet peeve?
Not to be negative, but to be helpful, here’s mine…
[tell what it is you wish people would stop doing on LinkedIn]
If there were one thing you wish people would stop doing on LinkedIn, what is it?
You may be reading these and saying “I don’t understand how these turn me into a thought leader, this is just stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with what I do.”
You’re right, these aren’t customized for your vision, your genius zone, or your audience.
My intent is to show you a structure that works, but it will be up to you to customize that structure to meet your needs.
I have a client who targets HR executives who work in talent acquisition and employer branding, so when my company creates posts for him they look like this:
Are you using social media to recruit and hire talent? If so, how?
Chances are, you’ve seen some changes in the way you recruit talent. It’s especially true in the Millennial market. A recent study from Glassdoor found that 79% of job applicants are using social media to research brands before ever hitting the ‘Apply’ button.
Excellent reason to make sure your brand matches the reality of your company, which will increase you success at attracting applicants and keeping them engaged as employees.
But prospective employees aren’t the only ones using social media. An even higher percentage of employers (91%) told CareerArc that they do their own due diligence through social media before making a hiring decision.
What do you think of this change? Good? Bad? Ugly? How is it changing the way you approach potential hires and tell your own brand story?
The pattern is the same, but the audience and topic change.
What kind of content are you going to start posting on LinkedIn?
BTW, if you like these LinkedIn post prompts, you can get one every day with my LinkedIn email course 60 Days to LinkedIn Mastery.
Putting It Together
Now go back to your vision.
Knowing what you now know about the genius zone, your ideal audience, and how to create compelling content, does that change your vision and goals in any way?
With these keys in place, you now know more than 99.99% of LinkedIn users about how to engage in thought leadership.
What will you do with your new knowledge? Tell me in the comments below, and let me know if you have any questions.Liked it? Share it!