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Thought leadership presents risks along with rewards

Thought leadership is ever-present. Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle provided enduring thought leadership when he uttered, “Moderation in all things.”

While upsides to well-conceived thought leadership include brand-building, increased profits and the feeling of satisfaction and empowerment that comes with helping build a better world through “expert advice,” there can be downsides as well.

It’s kinda like the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade proclamation from the knight guarding the Holy Grail, “But choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.”

Thought leadership content developed haphazardly or only with self-aggrandizement in mind can quickly turn deadly to a business. A article entitled “What Happens When Thought Leadership is Done Badly” sets the stage for a poor outcome: “Becoming a thought leader can bring scores of benefits to individuals, firms and associations. It is, without question, one of the most effective and efficient ways to generate new business from new clients as well as from existing clients. Thought leaders are also able bring in higher-quality talent to their organizations as well as upgrade the capabilities of the talent within their organizations.

“While the benefits of running a successful thought leadership campaign are regularly astounding, what happens when an individual, firm or association gets it wrong? That downside can prove quite painful, if not brutal. A poorly conceptualized and implemented thought leadership campaign can be quite catastrophic for those involved.”

The article continues, “When thought leadership efforts falter, the consequences can be the adverse of what was intended. Instead of being seen as a state-of-the-art authority in a particular field, the individual or firm conveys that its understanding of critical industry issues is superficial at best or its solutions are anything but…What’s even more detrimental is the ‘reverse halo’ effect, where its poor attempt at becoming a thought leader actually diminishes the individual’s or firm’s offerings in the eyes of prospects, clients and referral sources…It’s a disaster working counter to all the myriad benefits of thought leadership.”

Offering some light at the end of the tunnel, the article then points out that, “You should approach becoming a thought leader judiciously and prudently. The decision to become a thought leader must be made carefully and methodically. You need to think through what you want to accomplish…”

Here are a few basic tips to help prevent drinking from the wrong cup:

  1. Be authentic. If you offer great customer service, talk about how and offer tips that can help other companies do the same. If your customer service sucks, don’t offer thought leadership information that says otherwise.
  2. Be accurate. It’s very important to convey thought leadership information that can stand up to scrutiny and testing. When addressing the importance of, say, thorough, timely and reliable telecommunications services (and associating your company’s performance with those qualities), you had better walk the talk. Otherwise, you end up in a deficit position—promising and not delivering.
  3. Be invested. Provide thought leadership insights and ideas based on passionate personal and/or professional beliefs. Don’t just say what sounds good. Make it be good because you buy into it in a substantial way.

Avoid a false Grail to prevent a falling reputation…and revenues.


Thought leadership content provides a valuable customer service when developed as a way to impart useful, memorable expert advice. It also serves the dual purpose of being an excellent marketing avenue when written from a knowledgeable, heartfelt, even soul-felt perspective. This is the third in a series of four articles addressing thought leadership. It also kicks off the celebration of Mark Lusky Communications’ 37 years in business.

Mark Lusky is a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience.

Author of A Wandering Wondering Jew… and co-author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Leverage,  Mark (aka The Happy Curmudgeon) is the owner of a Denver-based marketing communications firm.

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