5 Simple Steps to Cultivate the Best Thought Leaders for Your Enterprise

Thought leadership can put your enterprise business at the forefront, adding instant value to your brand and giving customers and prospects an extra incentive to stay or get on board. But how exactly do you position an organization as leaders in thought?

We outline here what you need to know in five simple steps.

Step One: Understand It's About More Than Intellect

Every business employs people who might be considered experts in their field. While a handful of these individuals may be intellectual superstars who genuinely raise the bar, more often than not, these people and positions are interchangeable.

An engineering lead at your company could probably fill the same role at a competitor's and vice versa. Same for a creative director at a successful advertising agency or a chef at a five-star restaurant.

The takeaway is that you don't have to employ an Einstein to obtain a thought leadership position in your industry. You just need to provide the experts with a platform and resources to get there.

Step Two: Identify Your Expert

You might think finding a thought leader in your organization would be as easy as identifying the most intelligent person in the room. This, however, is only partially true.

Remember that in addition to being experienced in the field, a thought leader must also be articulate, likable (or at least not off-putting), and comfortable in the spotlight. If your expert doesn't have these qualities, find someone in your organization who does.

In the movie 'Broadcast News,' a top behind-the-scenes journalist gets his big break behind the prime-time news desk. Unfortunately for him, he melts down under the spotlight. This is what you want to avoid.

Step Three: Create A Thought Leadership Infrastructure

Thought leaders don't make it to the top on their own. Once you've identified a candidate, it's essential to connect the individual with the people and resources within your organization who can help elevate them.

Often, this will include members from top leadership, public relations, and social or professional media. With guidance from someone like the CEO, the thought leader can align their efforts with company objectives.

For example, suppose your company is positioning itself to support developing and adopting electronic vehicles. In that case, the thought leader can expand on these efforts through white papers, interviews, and posts on LinkedIn.

In addition to the internal team, provide your thought leader with external resources, if needed. Many will benefit from media training or courses using video or audio tools to help create content such as videos or podcasts.

Step Four: Create A Thought Leadership Plan (And Stick to It)

Just as branding benefits from a consistent approach, so does thought leadership. Create a plan that, when adhered to, identifies one or two areas of expertise your thought leader can expand on during a given time frame.

Outline the tactics used and create a calendar for publishing, posting, and appearing. Using our example of electronic vehicles, this might mean pushing out a white paper on regulations in January and supporting it with posts on LinkedIn and a podcast.

The key to creating a plan is to map it out, then stay flexible enough to make adjustments as needed as you go. No strategy can account for unexpected changes, so keeping an open mind will be helpful as long as you don't lose sight of your communications objectives.

Step Five: Reinforce and Adjust

Thought leaders are humans, so don't overlook that they'll need positive or corrective reinforcement from time to time. If a thought leader is excelling in one area, such as media interviews, consider adjusting your thought leadership plan to include more of these.

On the other hand, if your thought leader struggles to write white papers, consider training or enlisting a co-editor who can help tackle the issue. Another issue you might have to contend with is burnout, for instance, if your plan is too vigorous.

For this reason alone, you may want to consider delegating thought leadership to more than one person in your organization. As long as your plan and messaging are consistent, it's a model that can be supported.

Thought leadership in an enterprise business can be a true differentiator when handled effectively. These guidelines provided here can help ensure it all goes as planned.