Updated: May 20
The New Internet Superhero - Thoughtleader!
Being a thought leader isn’t technically a job title. You can’t - at this moment, anyway - get a degree at Wharton in Thought Leadership.
“Thought leader” is more of a title given to you by others - like “Badass” or “Hot Mess.” Still, a lot of us in the personal development space think about it and brand for it.
But creating a “thought leader strategy” when you run a service-based business can feel sort of weird. It involves creating content that’s you-centric. The result can go to some gross places.
I mean, there’s no padlock on the internet, right? There are a lot of random people casting themselves in the role of a thought leader.
You know the ones. They talk LOUD. They manage to seem sure of themselves and insecure at the same time. Often they’re standing in front of a jet or a Lamborghini. And they’re usually holding their book.
Their internet identity falls somewhere between Wonder Woman and Tony Robbins. They practically have a cape on. They are ...THOUGHTLEADER!!
But if you’re here, on my site, you’re probably wanting something a little deeper than that.
And that’s a good idea because offering valuable thought leader content is a great way to impact a lot of people for the better - while creating a demand for your paid services.
So let’s say you want to cast yourself as the superhero. You are THOUGHLEADER.
How do you create content that hits the sweet spot? How do you make it about you - but really about the people you want to serve?
Well, I think when you’re crafting content it’s best to lean on the more meaningful superpowers of thought leadership.
True Thought Leaders:
Relate Through Stories
Normalize the Struggle
In this blog, we’ll talk about thought leadership content that builds connection, creates momentum, and deflects against becoming just another Youtube annoyance.
In other words - being a badass, not a hot mess.
Thought Leader Content: Solve a Problem. Don’t Sell a Product.
Here’s the thought leader content challenge-
It’s a type of content that puts YOU at its center. I mean, there’s no way around it.
But if you’re a coach or a service-based business, you are also the product.
Combine those two points and any “Me” based chitchat you put out is in danger of seeming like one long commercial.
You may be tempted to lean into this vibe.
It’s not unusual for new, public-facing entrepreneurs to pop out their book or talk incessantly about some online course they’re offering in supposedly “helpful content.”
This is a thing that you must fight against at all costs! Or you could lose the trust of the people you want to help.
“One of the easiest ways to lose credibility and the reader's interest is to hype your company's product or service,” says Jeff Bradford on Inc.com, “Readers are one click away from moving to another article - don't give them an excuse by being self-promotional.”
So when you’re putting together a blog post, Livestream, anything where you reach out and say “listen up, it’s me - THOUGHTLEADER,” have an actual problem to solve.
If you create thought leader content that’s truly about your audience’s pain points, the focus will shift from you to them naturally. Your public will feel seen, and a note of giving - not taking - will come through in your post.
Powerful thought leadership is kind of like a good date. You may talk about yourself - but it’s really all about the other person.
As to your business needs - remember that sincerely helping them through your content gives them a chance to sample your expertise. Focus on their problems today and you’ll end up solving lead generation tomorrow.
Two Dudes on a Bench - The Dangers of Unsolicited Advice
There are two older dudes sitting on a bench in a park. They both have a lifetime of advice stored up.
In fact, Dude One has some solid advice just for you...and he lets you know it aaaaall the time.
If you so much as clear your throat in front of Dude One he’s off to the races - here’s what you should do, this is how you’re doing that wrong, this is all you need to know.
At some point you don’t care how good the advice is - you just want him to shut up.
Then, of course, there’s the other dude - Dude Two. When you walk up Dude Two greets you with a warm hello. While he feeds the pigeons you struggle with your three-year-old. He says “Oooooh yeah that’s a tough age. I remember that with my kids.”
This makes you feel immediately less embarrassed about your kid’s meltdown.
Dude Two relates a story about solving a similar problem when his son was a toddler. You feel entertained, less tired, understood, and infinitely more able to deal.
Here’s the question: Which bench do you return to next time you’re in the park?
When I say thought leader content solves a problem, I don’t mean it’s about obnoxiously yelling out unsolicited advice.
It’s about putting out your content in stories. Not in lectures. Stories.
Finger-wagging isn’t leadership. And it can trigger resistance to messages your audience really needs to hear.
“[M]ost men and women reach a point where they tire of listening to others tell them what to do,” says clinical psychologist Seth Meyers, “and they would rather make a mistake and suffer the consequence than comply like a dutiful child...even if the advice would actually lead to a better result.”
We all suffer from a kind of opposition reflex. God knows I feel a little uneasy telling you what to do right now. (Awkward.) But the best way to turn your audience off is to nag them in your content.
Look, don’t overthink it. Just humanize your advice by creating a context, a sort of fable. It builds an opportunity to relate, to connect some dots. No shaming. No eye-rolling. No comparisons. No bellowing.
Just a story.
Thought leader content that tells a story instead of hammers a point winds up being an invitation. One that your audience can gratefully accept.
Getting It Wrong = Getting It So Right
Which brings me to a story...about screwing up.
My friend Shelley’s mom was recently struggling on some diet. She was doing great, lost a lot of weight. Then Shelley’s mom had a bad day and ate too much. She threw up her hands and threatened to quit. “I’ll never do this. I can’t seem to be good about food!”
Shelley pulled out some black-belt THOUGHTLEADER moves.
She said, “Mom...did you really think you’d eat perfectly every single day for the rest of your life? That doesn’t seem reasonable, does it? This is just a run-of the-mill screw up. Happens all the time. Totally normal. You’re doing fine. Just get back to it.”
Shelley’s on-the-fly content communicated the most inspirational message she could give her mom - SCREWING UP HAPPENS. It just does.
Maybe it’s just me but one of the most obnoxious things that some “thought leaders” do is make their screw-ups all in the past tense.
“I used to be a loser, now I fly first-class and win at everything because I did x, y and z. I fixed myself. You can too.”
This isn’t true, sustainable, or helpful.
If you really want to help with your thought leadership content, it’s good to expose some day-to-day struggles. Don’t justify them. Just normalize them. Be willing to learn in front of your audience, and show them what moving on looks like.
Honestly, if you just convey this one thing through your content, you’ll be better than a superhero - you’ll be a freaking guardian angel to your audience.
Because this is the one thing that makes so many hopeful people buckle and let go. Just a simple lack of perspective.
Getting it “wrong” and showing it in your content can arm your audience with resilience, grit, and with self-compassion. They’ll learn how to fail on Monday and still win the week.
Anyone who’s traveled from hardship to success knows...it’s not a straight line.
If you’re going to create content that makes a difference - tell the truth, normalize their backslides, and show them how to do better next time. That’s what growth really looks like.
The Main Thing
The main thing is … make your content for them - their needs, their point of view, their road ahead. And say it in a way that welcomes them into their own journey.
You decided to sign on for this job, so remember the words that make up your job title.
Thought. Leader. Be thoughtful about leading them.
As a leader you hold the map and the flashlight. You’re directing them on their journey. You’re lighting the way. If your thought leader content is just about “look at me” and “buy my book,” you’re not really a leader. You’re just a noisy sideshow.
Ready to get it right? We talk all about thoughtful leadership in my free coaching hour, Brave Biz Lab.