Included in most packages that a communications firm will propose to a fledgling company – or internal teams will work to deliver within larger organizations – is the positioning of founders, CEOs, Presidents and senior executives as thought leaders. This is done through booking individuals as panelists, moderators, keynote speakers, promoted blogs or guest columns – all as a means to associate the leader with the subject matter that’s relevant to their business. But, upon deeper consideration, this concept is just plain backwards. Not to say we should call it Leadership Thought (which sounds a little silly), but more leaders – and bookers – should approach it as that opportunity to showcase how the leaders are thinking in order to find more effective business outcomes on multiple levels.
There’s a number of major factors at play here: the evolving definition of a leader, companies’ goals, corporate positioning in the growing gig economy and, the value of these “thought leadership” undertakings for all involved.
First of all, it’s not too hard for anyone to do some quick research on what the pressing subject matters are prior to taking part in any of the examples shown above. It’s also not much of a challenge for an executive to regurgitate their company’s doctrine. What is compelling and much more insightful is seeing how executives and companies view the world and react to it. In many ways, recounting processes or the pathways to handling situations is the difference between self-aggrandizement and inspiration. And, inspiration is positioned to be the number-one validation of a true leader in the near future. Providing insight into what inspires companies and leaders acts as a much stronger barometer of where that company is heading — without being a commercial that everyone could have followed without paying the entrance fee.
We can talk more deeply about the difference between a leader and a manager, but in the interest of keeping this post to the point, the exposition of how a company and its leaders evolve in the face of product development, shifting economies, politics, sentiment and a myriad of other measurable factors can inspire others to find growth individually or as an organization. As the gig economy grows, this type of leadership and reputation will become even more valuable since more workers will have to put two and two together on the fly quickly following institutionally-established and easy to follow protocols.
Just yesterday, the owner of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, Steven Ross, started a week-long business seminar in New York for a number of his players. He’s seemingly doing it all based on his compassion for the players and the realization that a pro-sports career is not forever. As he seems to be the only NFL team owner that offers this opportunity for his players, it’s not a requisite leadership quality for ownership. Yet it clearly exemplifies the vision of what leaders are meant to be doing – provide a growth opportunity for, and support among, constituents regardless of their future path.
In the NFL example, free agents see what Ross is providing as a leader and that might cause them to think differently about the possibility of joining the team in free agency. This is not such a foreign idea for “normal” businesses. As workers in all industries are seeing their average tenure at any company shortening, the value placed on the type of leadership a company has become as large a component of drawing talent and recruiting as any pretty site or illustrious head hunters – and a whole lot cheaper.
The producers and publishers who play such a key role in the Thought Leadership game are between a rock and a hard place. So much emphasis is placed on big names for the marketing of their product and the meat of what attendees receive when they arrive is often underwhelming. Many producers are recently finding that they are generating stronger returns by highlighting what can be shared rather than what can’t (due to lack of insight and relevance) – and are having much more flexibility in which leadership they choose to present to glean the thoughts that truly make up a leader and inspire us all to bigger and better things.