Executive Thought Leadership: 5 Tips To Stand Out As A Thought Leader

by | Career Growth

More than 90% of executives believe that thought leadership is critical to building authority in their industry, according to recent research conducted by The Harris Poll.

However, many executives report that they are falling short in their efforts to gain attention for their expertise, with only 20% agreeing that their thought leadership is highly effective.

So, how do position yourself as a thought leader and produce powerful thought pieces? Additionally, what mistakes should you avoid with your executive thought leadership content and strategy? Let’s dive in.

What Is Executive Thought Leadership?

Executive thought leadership is the process of sharing your experience, knowledge, insights, and unique perspectives as a leader.

Whether you’re looking for a new role, wanting to secure a promotion, or hoping to position yourself as a professional speaker or consultant, thought leadership is a valuable opportunity to position yourself as an expert in your industry and bolster your credibility.

Notably, thought leadership looks different when you’re a senior leader, because the content is less focused on sharing facts and instead centered on your unique insights.

Some of the most powerful executive thought pieces cover an existing topic with a fresh new perspective or innovative solution that hasn’t been discussed previously.

What Is Thought Leadership Content?

Thought leadership content is your opportunity to share your knowledge and unique perspectives while carving out your position as an authority in your industry.

As an executive, simply synthesizing your career accomplishments and packaging them with lessons learned can make for impactful thought pieces.

Tip: If you’re a senior executive, your company may have an internal communications or PR team that can support you in crafting thought leadership pieces. It’s a win-win, as you get support in developing messaging while your company gets a company cheerleader.

You might also consider hiring an external coach to support you in refining and elevating your messaging.

5 Tips To Stand Out As A Thought Leader

As a tech career coach and executive coach, I often partner with senior leaders to bolster their brands and position themselves as experts in the industry. Here are five of my top tips for effectively positioning yourself as an executive thought leader:

1. Start today.

Many leaders have fabulous ideas that never get heard because they’re too afraid, or simply didn’t find the time, to share them with the world.

The first and most important step in standing out as a thought leader is getting started. Write down your content ideas, now.

  • What are you passionate about? What are your favorite topics to discuss?
  • What do you wish you had known earlier in your career? What career lessons do you want to share?
  • If you had a billboard or could produce a Super Bowl ad on any topic, what would the message be, and why?

Let your juices flow, and write down all the possible topics you could share. (Speaking from personal experience, keeping an exhaustive list of your content ideas can combat writer’s block when you’re not feeling creative.)

2. Develop a writing routine.

Next, you’ll want to develop a regular writing routine, as producing consistent thought leadership takes time and energy. Consider setting aside dedicated time every day or week to work on your thought leadership content.

Some executives find it helpful to spend a little time each day writing content, while others set aside an hour or two per week. What’s most important is that you stick to it.

If you struggle to put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard), try using talk-to-text, as it can help keep the content flowing.

3. Engage with your audience.

As you develop a rhythm with writing and sharing thought leadership, you’ll start to develop a loyal following who will engage with your content. It’s key that you respond to their comments if you want them to continue participating.

Fortunately, connecting with your audience doesn’t need to be a laborious process either; it can be as simple as carving out 5 or 10 minutes at the end of each day to respond to comments. 

4. Iterate your content based on feedback.

Ask for feedback regularly, especially when you’re in the early stages of sharing your content. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and adjust your approach based on how your audience reacts.

You can experiment with the topics you cover, the length of your content, how often you post, and more. Get creative! 

5. Identify a niche.

Once you’re comfortable with producing thought leadership, you might consider carving out a niche for yourself.

The following questions can guide you in developing your executive thought leadership niche.

  • Who is your audience? Who isn’t your audience?
  • What problems does your audience face? How can you support them in solving these problems? What’s unique about your approach or solution?
  • Why are you the best person to be talking about this topic? Why now?

Tips To Stand Out As A Thought Leader

Where To Publish Thought Pieces

There are a lot of opportunities to share your thought leadership pieces with the public. The following are a few worth considering:

LinkedIn

As a LinkedIn Top Voice, the platform’s highest honor, I’m partial to the professional network for distributing thought leadership.

Not only does LinkedIn have approximately one billion users, but it’s the go-to social media platform for senior leaders, who are often the target audience for executive thought leadership.

According to a recent study, LinkedIn is the top platform of choice for Fortune 500 CEOs who are on social media.

That said, you can also distribute your thought leadership on other social networks like Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram. Just be mindful not to spread yourself too thin.

Medium

Medium is another great option for publishing thought leadership content, and the barrier to entry is low since it’s a self-publishing blog platform.

An advantage of publishing on Medium, versus your own website, is that the articles tend to rank well in search engines, which means that they have a greater likelihood of being found through a Google search.

Publications

If you’re looking to expand your reach to a broader audience, you can also pursue publishing your thought leadership in publications like Forbes and Fast Company.

There are countless publications, and new ones seem to be popping up daily, so you shouldn’t find it difficult to find one that aligns with your niche and target audience.

Note: Top media publications will often ask for writing samples when you pitch them, so use the thought leadership articles you produced on LinkedIn or Medium if you don’t have an established history of being published. 

Podcasts

If writing isn’t your forte, or you simply prefer being interviewed, you can get your voice out there by serving as a guest on a podcast for your niche. For instance, if you’re a product leader, you might aim to be a guest on The Product Podcast.

Several online directories allow you to identify opportunities to be a guest on podcasts, including:

Another option is to produce your own podcast, but it’s much more labor-intensive than being a guest on a single episode, so consider whether you have the time and energy to dedicate to the endeavor.

Conferences

You might also consider speaking at relevant conferences, as this not only demonstrates your expertise but also provides a powerful opportunity to network and build relationships with industry peers.

A silver lining of the COVID pandemic is that more conferences have moved online, making speaking at them an easier lift than ever before.

Professional Associations 

Lastly, professional associations often have speaking opportunities for members.

For instance, if you’re a member of Chief, a private network for executive women, you might explore available speaking opportunities through the organization. If you’re in project management, you can check out local and national Project Management Institute (PMI) events.

Many professional associations also have publications and newsletters that provide opportunities for members to submit thought pieces.

Where To Publish Thought Pieces

Executive Thought Leadership Mistakes To Avoid

What mistakes should you avoid when producing executive thought leadership? Here are some of the most common missteps leaders make:

Chasing perfectionism.

One of the biggest mistakes executives make when starting out with thought leadership is feeling like their content must be perfect before hitting the publish button. This results in them never sharing their thoughts and voices with the world.

Solution: You just need to start. Ask yourself what the minimum viable product (MVP) is that you’d be willing to put into the world, and then make it happen. 

Attempting to be omnipresent on every platform.

Know that you don’t need to be on every social media platform, especially when you’re just starting out in your executive thought leadership journey. In fact, spreading yourself too thin can dilute your message.

Solution: Focus on one platform at a time, perhaps forever. Before adding additional channels, get clear on where your audience is hanging out and whether they’re using it with the intent of reading thought pieces. While executives may be on Facebook, for instance, it’s unlikely they’re using the app to search for thought leadership, so you probably don’t need to be posting there.

Obsessing over vanity metrics.

Similarly, please don’t feel like you need to reach tons of people with your thought leadership. This sometimes manifests in obsessing over vanity metrics like followers, likes, and views.

You’re better off reaching a few or the right people with the right message than a ton of people with the wrong messages

Solution: Understand which metrics are worth monitoring and which to ignore. If you’re a CTO, securing an article or speaking engagement in front of fellow senior-level tech executives will likely garner you better results than a lifestyle publication or general business conference.

Expecting to be an overnight success.

Finally, you must temper your expectations, as you can’t expect overnight success with thought leadership, as it’s a long game.

Solution: Remember that the goal of thought leadership is to increase brand awareness and bolster your credibility, not immediately convert the people you reach.

Executive Thought Leadership Mistakes To Avoid

If you have any questions about executive thought leadership and standing out in your industry, please don’t hesitate to contact me or schedule a consultation to discuss if working together is your next best step. I’m here for you! You’ve got this!

About Dr. Kyle Elliott

About Dr. Kyle Elliott

Dr. Kyle Elliott is the founder and career coach behind CaffeinatedKyle.com. His expertise is in Silicon Valley and high-tech. As a result of working with Dr. Elliott, senior managers and executives have landed jobs at Meta, Amazon, Google, and nearly every other tech giant you can imagine.

A trusted career expert, Dr. Elliott’s words have been featured on Business Insider, CNBC, CNN, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, and The New York Times, among dozens of other leading publications. He has been recognized as a Best Career & Interview Coach, Best Resume Writer for Silicon Valley/Tech Managers & Executives, and LinkedIn Top Voice (the platform’s highest honor).

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