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Thought Leadership: Are we all really thought leaders?

9th August 2017

Last month, I mediated a lively discussion with an international group of communications executives on the now so popular PR strategy must-have…Thought Leadership.  For many of us in communications, barely a day will go by without someone somewhere bringing up this buzzword as a key strategic initiative.  For me a thought leader is not just an individual that changes attitudes and behaviours, by words but also by deeds.  Here in the Middle East, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, is an example of a visionary thought leader, with unique and inspirational ideas, which he makes into reality.  He constantly challenges international standards of what can be achieved to inspire social and economic prosperity and diversity if you have the vision and commitment.  From the world’s first Ministry of Happiness to the construction of the world’s tallest buildings, or the organisation of the first World Expo in the Middle East, Dubai is changing attitudes and behaviours of what can be achieved not only in the Arab World but globally as a whole.

But if you as an individual or an organisation are thinking about thought leadership communications, how do you consider if it is right for you or not?  First, not all of us are can be heads of state, leaders of government or CEOs of major corporations, or even media celebrities.  Unless you are a Leader of, or famous for something, can thought leadership really be authentic, or will it come across as contrived? For me not everyone can or has to be a thought leader to be successful.  People should not force themselves to be a thought leader if they do not really change attitudes and behaviours.  Steve Jobs was an incredible thought leader, but today Apple is no longer driven by the ideas of one person – it is an organisation made up of thousands of highly talented people who continue to shape the way the world uses technology.  This summer I have been struck by Discovery’s MOSQUITO film and campaign - with thousands of blood-sucking insects swarming its on-air branding, along with “killer facts”, public petition and health advice. Discovery is taking a leadership role in efforts to solve such a critical health issue – but also doing so by providing incredible content - in a way that is genuine to the identity of the Discovery brand, which is “Committed to the stories of our World...committed to making the world a better place by leveraging our market-leading global platform, and by extending the reach and influence of like-minded organizations and causes”

So, for me thought leadership does not have to be an individual thing - providing you genuinely are a leader in what you do as an individual or collectively as an organisation, with genuine unique perspectives and ideas, then have the confidence to help shape the way your peers think and behave through your communications. This is a big subject, with lots of different views, so please share with me any thoughts or questions you have! @jonnyshill


Jonathan Shillington

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