How We Develop Thought Leadership in a Crowded Education Space

You’ve walked into a regular strategy meeting. You, yourself, play the role of a dutiful soldier there to do as instructed. This day you’ve been tasked with raising the profile of leadership at your company. This sounds exciting, at first, and then dread starts to set in as the room temperature begins to rise – or at least that’s how it feels.

You’ve heard of thought leadership. You may have even read a few articles from education leaders positing their belief system, company and products often wondering how did they begin. And, let’s be honest they might be very different from the leadership that employs you.

On the flip side, your leadership desperately wants to support company growth and opportunity and they are faced with the reality that people sell more often that apps, products or widgets. And, in fact, your CEO has probably, themselves, just left a prior meeting outlining the rationale for taking the next step in thought leadership. They are probably just as unsure of the path, objectives and best-case outcome(s) as you are.

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In this two-part series we’ll examine how one can support and execute against a strategy to elevate a leaders’ voice and how leadership can gain comfort in the role of ambassador and thought leader proactively communicating with the market. Part I denotes the path the employee or better yet the “executive producer” plays in this scenario. Part II lays out the realities for you, the CEO, now budding thought leader.

The key takeaway should be that developing thought leadership happens as a collective and not an isolated practice. It will take more than sheer genius, from either of you, to move the proverbial needle.

Part I: Executive Producer

Let’s revisit that overly hot and stuffy conference room. Remember, you just walked in wondering how your week would shapeup only to learn that you would now be tasked with effectively branding leadership. You may have been tasked with this new challenge by your Chief Strategy Officer, the CEO themselves or some amalgamation of sales/business development and the head of marketing. Either way, the idea has arrived and now what?

The first step in this process is to sit down with the originator of the idea. Ask specific questions like:

  • What is the objective of raising our CEO’s profile?
  • Are we trying to connect the CEO with other influencers, investors, customers etc.?
  • If we have a company blog how have we, in the past, expressed opinions from leadership?
  • What are the leading educational headlines that intersect between the company’s objectives and the leadership perspective of the CEO?
  • Who can help us achieve our goals, of outreach, outside of our organization?
  • How does the thought leader want to be involved? (more on this below)

The second step when working with a leader of a company, with whom you are to assist in developing a heightened and influential profile, is to learn about the person, their interests and why they started the company you work at in the first place. Treat your meeting like an interview. This is a step that is often skipped by too many in our field [strategic advisement/market development and PR].

Find out what they are reading about and how they see those articles and storylines aligning with the company’s objectives. That will begin to lay out a path of collective understanding that everything matters. Every detail that they take for granted can be gold to you as you look for any and every thread to tether their opinion to. Remember you want to get them invited to the “party.” You want your leader to be able to request meetings with other like-minded leaders for business developed, to demonstrate the sound strategy of the company’s path and/or to attract potential channel partners and investors. Every detail counts.

Part II: Budding Thought Leader

So, you are the leader of your company. You drive to and from the office sweating the small stuff because you have to. You signed up for it and yet that rationale alone isn’t quite getting it done to the level you expect of the company and yourself. You’ve been relegated to hoping others can articulate your voice, vision and insight in a meaningful manner. Maybe they can. Maybe it could be done at another level.

If that is the point you find yourself in, then maybe developing your thought leadership beyond sounding smart at conference cocktail parties makes the most sense. However, you have gotten to this point the first step, for you, is to be honest about what you want to say, be open to ideas and critiques and build systems that are scalable, not overwhelming and include others to make you accountable.

To build your personal brand, in the overarching shadow of your company, will take sustained and pervasive penetration of thought into the larger education market. If you hope that one blog or a few interviews will spur a viral campaign with you starring in the lead role you are, sadly, kidding yourself.

It will take time to develop your voice. Meaning, that having an opinion that is expressed and ultimately sought out takes practice and talking points. It takes time and strategy.

Tip: The sooner that you can think of the work associated with raising your profile as strategic and not a burdensome task of idiotic proportion the sooner you will play an active role in the game of influence.

Snip20160504_9Think of it this way – we are not often given a blank canvas to paint our thoughts and ideas to share with our business community. You now have that opportunity and the name of the game is strategy. If you are writing a blog post or being interviewed for a national piece make sure your voice counts, that it is tied to collateral your sales team can use, that your marketing division can spin into next-gen products and solutions you are sharing with potential investors etc. Never leave meat on the bone. Your position of leadership provides great opportunity to share thoughts and opinions that can galvanize your company instilling pride that supports your company culture and builds upon it for the growth stage you are putting into motion.

Let us close this discussion with a summation and even an explanation of sorts. You might ask why this post was built for the employee and the thought leader at the same time. That would be a good question and here is the answer:

To be an effective communicator of thought and a leader of your market you must trust in others to assist in the strategy, the outreach tactics, the uncovering of networks, influencers and relationships that probably support you already and want to hear from you. A genuine thought leader is able to think of those around them and as if they were those around them. As Tom Cruise famously stated in the movie Jerry Maguire, “Help me help you!” So many leaders are reticent to acknowledge that they need assistance with developing their market voice. Inherently, that makes perfect sense. You are supposed to be a thought leader maybe even a trailblazer so how could you admit you need assistance?

Be honest about the amount of time you can commit to developing your thought leadership strategy. That can come in the form of full blogs, microblogging, social sharing via Facebook, interview series and/or larger virtual events (leadership panels tilted in your favor). You may trip up a few times failing to meet deadlines. That is ok and at the end of the proverbial day it serves as information. Some CEO’s are voracious writers and they welcome the development of a shared editorial calendar strategically built for you. Others want to find ways to maximize short bursts of information, legacy sharing and advice giving. Both are just as valuable if packaged correctly and in support of the realities of the situation.

The moment you see the bigger picture you will begin the path of understanding how to develop thought leadership that separates you from a crowded, attention craving, pack of education company leaders trying every way to get their message to the market. Now please turn the thermostat down. Your employees are burning up.

For more thought leadership thoughts and profiles visit our friends at edCircuit

If you’d like to learn more about your specific path why not fly on over to our contact form to the right and we can discuss your options!