How to Skyrocket Your Business to the Top With Thought Leadership and Visibility
The most successful executives are also the most visible. Strategic and consistent thought leadership improves bottom lines and relationships with stakeholders.
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It's easy to get bogged down as an entrepreneur. Daily fires and shifting landscapes mean you're the ultimate multitasker and your plate is already full. That's probably why you've never invested time or energy into being a visible leader. But no matter what business you run, who your customers are or what your business plans include, executive visibility and thought leadership are no longer optional.
Some of today's most successful CEOs took their company from zero to hero with thought leadership. Look at Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx. Blakely created a billion-dollar company without ever spending a dollar on advertising by taking control of her own narrative.
Being visible is about serving your business because your customers and your stakeholders expect you to take a visible leadership role outside the company. Employees already trust their CEO more than most and respect their CEO for speaking out on social issues. Whether your customers are consumers or other executives, thought leadership and executive visibility add value to your company.
- 81% of consumers say CEOs should be personally visible.
- 69% of employees trust their CEO more than government leaders and heads of NGOs.
- 60% of decision-makers will pay a premium because thought leadership shows deep thinking and other virtues important to them.
Prepare yourself to take the spotlight with these four executive thought leadership steps.
What feels authentic to you?
Where do your personal interests and the company's interests overlap? Sit down and map this out because it will help you find the most value in the time you spend as a visible leader. Remember, as CEO, you're "big picture" — stay that way when you're identifying interests.
Whether your business is local or national, there is always a way to support the interests of others while serving your brand. Your visibility may be local or national, but either way, be strategic about your choice. What's really important in this phase is that you find something your customers can relate to and that you also have the desire to improve, reinvent or solve.
Back to Blakely, who celebrated her unique management style as a woman proudly saying she ran the business from a place of intuition, vulnerability and empathy. This appealed to her core demographic, and it was also absolutely authentic.
Being visible means contributing time and resources, so finding that overlap helps give you extra purpose and might even be the first step in your organization's purpose-driven mission.
Don't be shy about having engaging conversations with other executives about your ideas at this stage. Let them punch holes or suggest other extensions. Use this time to refine your ideas.
Related: What Exactly Is Thought Leadership?
Brush up your digital presence
You probably haven't looked at your LinkedIn for quite some time, but others do and will. Take an outsider's view of your LinkedIn or ask someone else to do so.
Ask yourself: What message does your LinkedIn send? Does it illustrate your expertise? Is it as complete as it could be? No one expects CEOs to be full-time on LinkedIn, but we are in an era where having a digital presence is a prerequisite, even for CEOs. LinkedIn isn't only a place for job seekers; it's a place for professionals to gather and find relevant information and credible voices. There is no thought leadership without a digital presence.
There are many CEOs on Twitter, too, and there's actually a strategic reason for that — a lot of journalists and editors are on Twitter as well. If your company is publicly traded, be sure you know the SEC rules, so you don't land in the hot water that Elon Musk found himself in. If you really have no authentic interest in Twitter, it's certainly not a requirement, but it will set you apart from other CEOs who expect completely scripted engagements.
What's your unique point of view?
As an entrepreneur, you already see the world differently, so take the time to plan your own distinctive ideas and solutions for the leadership position you take. Take the time to develop and refine your own point of view — your own "why."
Many executives either expect everyone to understand the "why," or they don't think they're in a position to lead a "why." But neither of those things is true. If you look at TED Talks, only a few of the ideas are actually new; most of them are old ideas with a new viewpoint or niche. That's all you need.
For example, if you look around and see a problem within your industry or a social issue impacting your customers, how will your distinctive point of view solve this issue? How can you contribute to the solution in a new way? We've had CEOs published internationally on the BBC and nationally on MSNBC because they could tap into a current social fear and explain what their company is doing to address that fear, and how they see themselves leading the charge against the fear.
Your point of view comes after the authenticity part because it really needs to be authentic, both from your personal perspective and a corporate point of view.
Start sharing your expertise
Now that you have some of the tactical steps out of the way, it's time to think about content and public relations.
Develop your own content stream on something like LinkedIn Twitter or even a Substack. At this stage, you may find it important to hire a ghostwriter. You may wish to write a book or start speaking about it. Be prepared to start slow and low, no matter what type of content you share.
At first, people will want to see your ideas clearly articulated in whatever format your choose. For example, few event organizers will hire a CEO without first seeing a video of them presenting in a similar format. When you do get a public speaking opportunity, no matter the size, spring to get it professionally recorded — don't rely on the event organizers to do that.
This could also include committing to a board seat on a local or national nonprofit. If the company serves a specific industry, there are associations you can support with time and insight. If your business serves consumers, there is a lot of opportunity for social and cultural movements. For franchise businesses, the national brand may already have inroads into organizations that you can support in various meaningful ways.
It's expected that today's leaders lead publicly. Leaders like Steve Jobs and Warren Buffet have seen to it that modern CEOs come out from behind the desk. Being a visible leader creates credibility for you and your company, and there's no time to start like the present. Starting with these four critical steps creates a solid base from which to grow your company's awareness in a meaningful and trusted way.