Ah! The wonders of social media. I first came across Craig Badings when I chanced upon his website, aptly named Thought Leadership, and delighted in finding someone both passionate and thoughtful about the topic. One way or another we found ourselves sending direct messages on Twitter, after which I invited Craig to connect on LinkedIn.
If you want to learn how to effectively communicate and broaden your sphere of influence you could do no better than to study Craig. Unlike many, he followed through and enjoyable conversations have ensued ever since.
Including this one, in which I engaged Craig in a bit of Q & A banter about thought leadership, what it is (and isn’t) and why so many people keep getting the wrong end of the stick!
Liz: Craig, you’re director at Canning Corporate Communications in Sydney, Australia…how did your interest in the concept of thought leadership come about and how much of it is influenced by the work you do with clients at that firm?
Craig: I first witnessed the power of thought leadership with a client six years ago. Importantly, they understood that thought leadership had to be ‘owned’ across the organization from the CEO to the sales team. Critically the research they did each year played back to enabling conversations that the sales people could have with their clients. If the research couldn’t achieve this, they wouldn’t do it.
It worked for them. They could have conversations about the industry and the issues their clients faced that no-one else could. It gave them a fresh media platform and, for the CEO, great new speaking material.
From that moment I decided to deep dive on thought leadership as a strategic communications tool and what it could do for a brand. Since then, I’ve immersed myself in it, lived it, breathed it, written a book and blogged about it and practiced it with my clients.
Liz: Is it me, or does there seem to be increasing misunderstanding about thought leadership these days, with the term at risk of becoming synonymous with “expert” or “trusted authority” or any of those other common titles folks like to give themselves? And what, of all the various definitions of thought leader already out there, is the one that — for you — best encapsulates the spirit and true meaning of this term?
Craig: Is it too arrogant to say mine? Seriously, there are lots of definitions out there and none of them is wrong – except those that talk about content curation as thought leadership!
There are lots of smart people out there who know a lot about this topic and they all have something to add to what thought leadership is or what it should be. I have assimilated some of these on my blog under the category Definitions of Thought Leadership.
Liz: Given that definition, what’s the key thing that differentiates a thought leader from any other business resource, in your opinion?
Craig: Simply that they deliver new insights that add value to their clients in a way no other part of the business can. In doing so, they differentiate themselves from the competition.
Done right, it’s a very compelling way to engage with your clients and to excite your employees about your business, your vision, and your place in the world.
Liz: Who do you consider to be some of the most impactful thought leaders — across any industry — in the world today?
Craig: There are so many across so many industries. Some examples include: Al Gore, Warren Buffett, Richard Branson; Mohammed Younis, Peter Drucker, Stephen Covey, John Kotter, Anita Roddick, Edward de Bono, Ken Blanchard, David Meerman Scott, Ricardo Semler, Robert Kiyosaki, Bill Gates, Howard Gardner, Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Tom Peters, and the list goes on.
Liz: I don’t consider Malcolm Gladwell or Daniel Pink — both extremely good authors and amazing curators of information — to be thought leaders, although many do. Where do you sit on this? Is Gladwell a thought leader in your eyes, or just a really good writer/curator of useful and entertaining knowledge? An innovator who’s gifted in combining concepts in a way that most others wouldn’t think of doing?
Craig: My view is that if the market sees you as a thought leader then you are. I would agree with you that merely curating content doesn’t make you a thought leader but if you curate content and from that content arrive at new ideas or insights that you share with your market then, yes, curation can lead to thought leadership. But curation on its own is merely that – purveying other people’s insights and information.
Liz: Let’s say (hypothetically speaking) that I’m a very skilled subject matter expert; I know my stuff inside out and my clients trust me explicitly for the valuable information and ideas I share with them. What more (if anything) would I need to do to shift out of the SME category and be considered a thought leader?
Craig: It depends what you want. If the SME market is your market why would you want to be a thought leader outside of that? The best thought leaders know their market, what to offer them and they stick to it with an intense focus.
If, however, you wanted to become a global thought leader in the SME market, that’s an entirely different proposition. You need to think carefully about how you reach a global market and how you would monetize your offering across that market. Now you are talking about being very findable online, building an online following, possibly getting onto the international speaker circuit, writing a book (and speaking to experts like Dr Liz Alexander about this), productizing your content so that you can sell online while you sleep, literally, and link up with like-minded people and share your information and insights.
Liz: Great advice, Craig — I’ll bear that in mind, lol.
As you know, my strategic focus — on behalf of my clients — is the business book: principally high quality offerings that are thoughtfully conceived, well organized, skillfully written, and published with high production values. To what extent do you think having a book (in addition to writing articles, white papers, and suchlike) is an essential part of a thought leader’s promotional toolkit these days? In fact, given that thought leader is a title others confer on you and you don’t (or shouldn’t) call yourself, isn’t it more to the point to let others sing your praises than go around self-promoting? Or is that just hiding your light under a bushel?
Craig: It all depends on who you want to reach with your thought leadership material or where you want to position yourself. That said, a book can be a very powerful tool for positioning yourself as the ‘expert’. Having written one book and now that I am busy with my second, I can also tell you that writing a book does amazing things for your own thoughts on the topic – it really helps to distill and crystalize your thinking further.
Obviously we are not all going to produce best sellers and not many people make money out of books, but that’s not the point. If it positions you as the recognized expert in a field and you get lots of work because of that, it is mission accomplished.
Liz: Exactly! I love that you’ve pointed out that developing a book helps shape thoughts, not just communicate them.
Finally, Craig, of the various business books you have read in the past year or so, which has made the biggest impact on you, and why?
Craig: I’d have to say “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working” by Tony Schwartz purely because it forces one to think contrary to the way we have always thought about our work and how we work. Immensely refreshing and eye-opening. I’ll be reading it again shortly.”
Liz: Craig, thanks so much for chatting and good luck with book #2. I know you’ve been kind enough to say you’ll take a gander at my next book, #Thought Leadership Tweet: 140 Prompts To Transform Subject Matter Experts Into Thought Leaders, which should be published by summer. Say “hi” to Sydney (Australia) for me — it’s been a long time!
If you are interested in connecting with Craig, here’s how:
What did you think of our discussion? Please pitch in with what you consider thought leadership to be or with any other comment, below: