Thought Leadership Strategy: The 10 Biggest Mistakes You Need to Avoid

Thought leadership is the goal of many executives and the pinnacle of success in executive branding. But it doesn’t come about by chance, which is why you need to develop a thought leadership strategy.

Many are familiar with the basics of how to establish thought leadership — create content, schedule speaking engagements, spot trends, etc. etc.

But there are certain things that people do unknowingly that have the potential to damage their thought leadership.

Knowing what to avoid as you develop your strategy can ultimately strengthen your thought leadership and help you achieve success.

Let’s look at 10 of the biggest mistakes that could be standing between you and your thought leadership goals, and how you can repair any damage from these mistakes.

The 10 Biggest Mistakes in Thought Leadership Strategy & How to Avoid Them

1. An Emphasis on Self-Promotion

Self Promotion

Some, when they begin their thought leadership story, sadly don’t bring much thought or leadership to the table. Instead, they take a self-promotional approach to their leadership.

This runs contrary to some of the basic principles of thought leadership. Today as soon as people sniff even a hint of a self-serving motive, they turn a deaf ear. Don’t risk alienating your audience.

What to do: Steer clear from outwardly promoting your company or products. Instead, focus on the needs of your audience. Even if you know that your product or service could help them, your thought leadership platform is not the place to offer it.

Offer advice and input that showcases your industry expertise. Comment on trending issues and new solutions. Show your audience that you’re in it for them, not just for personal profit.

Steer clear from promoting your company or products. Instead, focus on the needs of your audience

2. Following the Crowd

By their very definition, thought leaders stand out from their peers. They strike new paths and have their thumb on the pulse of industry matters, which puts them in a prime position to set trends and speak up on key issues.

No doubt you notice that certain trends get a lot of attention from others in your industry. For instance, for a long time people have been writing about big data. While it may be tempting to add your commentary on the subject, if you don’t have a new perspective to offer, you could flood your audience with repetitive information.

What to do: Don’t be too quick to jump on the bandwagon — especially if you’re just echoing everyone else. Instead, look for a new take on the story. Look for ways to stand out as different from others in your industry.

3. Lack of Strategy

Some people mistakenly view thought leadership as a quick fix. They plan an event, perhaps release a few articles, and expect thought leadership to be the natural (and fast) result.

But thought leadership is hardly a one-and-done deal — it takes consistent, long-term effort.

What to do: Be prepared to invest your time and energy into thought leadership. Set up a strategy to cultivate thought leadership for the long run. Constantly look for ways to buttress your thought leadership credentials. Work to integrate multiple strategies, including published content, guest speaking roles, campaigns and strategic partners.

Thought leadership is never a one-and-done deal — it takes consistent, long-term effort.

4. An Inconsistent Voice

As your thought leadership goals grow across your business, you run the risk of blurring your voice. For instance, you might have several teams working on thought leadership projects — each with their own unique goals and vision. Without common oversight, your thought leadership strategy will suffer.

What to do: Appoint a key individual to oversee all your thought leadership endeavors. Create a comprehensive guide on how you want teams to represent your thought leadership. Ensure everyone is on the same page with this vision and will represent you well.


5. False Claims

Some, in an attempt to put on a front of impressive thought leadership, try to claim responsibility for trends and solutions that existed before they came onto the scene.

But, far from bolstering thought leadership, this could damage your efforts.

What to do: Be upfront with your audience. Don’t act like every idea that you present was personally stamped for success by you. Show admiration and appreciation for the ideas and innovations of fellow industry experts — and always credit the responsible parties when talking about their ideas.

6. Putting Up a False Front

Many try to personify qualities that they equate with thought leadership and, on the flip side, hide other qualities that they fear may damage their thought leadership strategy.

For example, some women have felt the need to hide certain feminine characteristics in order to appear as more of a “leader”. In other words, they’ve felt like they had to put on a more manly front to fit the part of a thought leader.

What to do: You can be a confident thought leader without stripping away the basic personality traits that make you who you are.

Ultimately, if you’re not being true to yourself, you’ll be miserable and your audience will see through this. Instead, focus on being true to yourself. Showcase your personality and the little quirks that make you the special individual you are. Ultimately, you’ll have a more loyal audience who truly appreciates the person you are — not who you think you should be.

7. Lacking a Clear Message

A clear message is what attracts your audience — a rallying cry, if you will. Unfortunately, however, many potential thought leaders bounce around in their messaging, especially in the beginning.

It’s important as a thought leader to have your message buttoned down and consistent. Otherwise, you will appear unfocused — not a quality that people want in a thought leader.

What to do: Take the time to nail down a solid thought leadership message that portrays your industry expertise and core values. It needs to be consistent throughout your website, campaigns, and social media profiles.

8. Publishing Low-Quality Content

Thought leadership content is one of the key ways to becoming a leading authority in your field. But in the mad dash to publish and accumulate content, many potential thought leaders produce sub-par content that repels, rather than attracts, their audience.

What to do: Don’t just publish content for content’s sake. Instead, take your time to make sure that your content is high quality and meets industry standards. This includes the basics of spelling, grammar and readability, but you should also take the time to create in-depth and long form content that offers a comprehensive look at your subject matter.

Review your backlog of content ensuring that all of it meets these standards. Update any subpar content so it does a better job presenting your thoughts.

If you already have a solid content base, look into varying your content formats. Consider creating videos, infographics, or slideshares that have the potential to engage your audience.

9. Being Too Perfect

No one is perfect — thought leaders included. Some may not want to publicize their personal failures, but the fact is that failure is a part of life.

While you may want to appear as a Greek god or goddess to your audience, this is unrealistic and could very well detract from your executive branding. In this modern age, people want to follow B2B leaders who are genuine and real — not larger than life.

What to do: Humanize your brand by sharing your professional failures when appropriate. Your audience will feel closer to you as a person and more likely to listen to your insight and advice.

10. Being an Expert on Too Many Subjects

I’ve seen this on multiple occasions — people claiming to be an authority on several major subject areas. I understand the temptation to do this. Many rationalize that the more areas of expertise people see, the more impressive they will appear.

However, this line of thought often backfires. Think about it from another angle for a moment: If you claim expertise on a wide range of subjects, how much of an expert can you really be? In truth, by doing this, you run the risk of diluting your perceived authority and appearing fake to your audience.

What to do: Key in on a few niche subjects where your expertise really shines above others in your industry. Zero in on these one or two areas and develop your authority. Cultivate thought leadership content and other ways to display your expertise in those specific areas.

Key Points to Remember…

  • Focus on helping your audience instead of self-promotion.
  • Thought leadership is not a one-and-done deal — you need to create long-term strategy for success.
  • Make sure your thought leadership is consistent throughout all the teams working on thought leadership projects.
  • Be yourself — don’t try to fit into a mold of what you think a thought leader should be.

Don’t allow these mistakes to stand in the way of your thought leadership goals. Focus on these important areas of your strategy and ultimately strengthen your position as a thought leader.