There’s no such thing as compliant thought leadership

Done well thought leadership articles are an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise, a chance to show off to customers and competitors, to flout your perspicacity. 

But many authors have forgotten that the genre should lead business thinking, not repeat commonly held opinions.

It’s thought leadership, not thought me-too. Articles should provoke debate and challenge conventional thinking, not restate bland assumptions.

Thought leadership articles should comprise three main elements:

• Original insight — what you think

• Supporting evidence — why you think it

• Practical implications — what it means

They may include multiple points of view, but should stick to one issue and come to a definite conclusion. Thought leadership doesn’t sit on the fence.

Thought leadership articles should challenge conventional thinking, not restate bland assumptions.

They may be time-sensitive, an insight into a specific event in a specific place. They may be long-term or relatively timeless. But while their execution may be flexible, thought leadership articles have one irreducible guiding principle: originality.

Consensus

We’ve all been in meetings held to rubber-stamp decisions. The discussion goes round the table with each participant saying approximately the same thing using slightly different words or with a different nuance of emphasis.

This isn’t about nutting out something new. This is about reaching consensus, a collective donning of asbestos underpants.

Many thought leadership articles read like the members of the compliance committee nodding sagely in unison. But I would argue there’s no such thing as compliant thought leadership. If the article passes the compliance committee without contest, because it is written for consensus, the chances are it isn’t original.

Dos and don’ts

Has that put you off writing thought leadership articles? If it means some thought me-too articles aren’t written, that’s a good thing. But if you have original ideas to share, great. Here are some dos and don’ts.

  • Use a personal byline, not a faceless company. If you can’t put your name to it, it’s not your thought.
  • Decide where the article sits on the entertainment / information axis — you need to do both to be read.
  • Write in the first-person. If you can’t write well, find a ghost-writer who can ‘interview’ you or turn your notes or bullet points into engaging narrative.
  • Be concise. Link to related material.
  • Get straight to the point. Don’t save the shocking truth to the end. Most readers won’t get that far.
  • Don’t change course. If a point doesn’t fit into the main narrative thread, save it for another article.
  • Use accessible language, but don’t patronise.
  • Don’t use in-house jargon or acronyms. If you use jargon for the sake of brevity, define terms at first use.
  • Write the introductory paragraph and headline last.
  • Don’t write a long conclusion repeating what you’ve already said. By all means use a single sentence that rounds off the piece neatly by linking back to the original opening statement. Remember, the purpose is to demonstrate expertise, not fill space.

Or just stop when you’re done.