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They Call It Thought Leadership. But Executives Need Some Thoughts.

Author: Greg Sandoval
June 16, 2021

Once upon a time, Silicon Valley teemed with swaggering executives who were quick with a quip or a fresh and unique observation. These were the halcyon days of the late 90s and early aughts, a time when brash was beautiful.

Eric Schmidt, Steve Jobs, Scott McNealy, Marc Benioff, Carol Bartz, and Larry Ellison are just a few of those who were skilled at churning out printable quotes and catchy sound bites. They made bold predictions, lashed out at rivals, ballyhooed products, promoted tech standards, and advocated for less, or more, regulation – mostly less. For all the trouble these people occasionally talked themselves into, journalists loved them, and this helped them generate a lot of attention and notoriety for their companies. 

Nowadays, in an era where there’s a glut of thought leadership pieces, scores of executives regularly communicate with the public. The thought leadership article, an opinion piece published in tech publications, is an excellent vehicle for tech leaders to showcase their intelligence, know-how and values. When done well they can help raise the profile of a company and a management team. 

Why then are so many of these pieces bloodless and inconsequential? Today, too many go unnoticed. 

Pinpointing the cause is simple: too often they take a weak point of view, aren’t well thought out or simply say nothing new. In my experience, the problem is rooted in the mistaken belief by some that there’s not much to writing them. Too frequently, managers turn them over to junior marketing or communications managers and a freelance writer and leave it at that. 

At Bospar, our content team strives to produce articles for clients that reflect an insider’s view on news or emerging trends, offer a fresh and unique perspective, and include our clients’ strong, clear and savvy voices.  We’ve learned that creating riveting opinion pieces bubbles up out of a collaborative process. To create the best value for readers, everyone from a company’s CEO and CMO to the sales and engineering teams should participate in generating ideas. 

Any leader who thinks a lone freelance writer can consistently come up with gripping stories about the company or the company’s sector is mistaken. Nobody knows your enterprise or industry better than you and your subordinates. Nearly everyone in your organization is better positioned to extract more relevant information than any outsider. 

A high-quality thought leadership article should mix various elements, starting with a strong opinion about a new trend or event. After that, add a healthy portion of analysis and a pinch of context. A good writer should assist all along the process, researching facts, asking questions and ensuring ideas aren’t dated. They should also provide story elements that make reading a pleasure.

If you’re not willing to put your shoulder into creating solid ideas for your thought leadership byline, it’s better to find another way to raise your company’s profile. To stand out in the current din of voices requires thought and effort. 

To catch the public’s attention, executives don’t have to insult anyone or even be funny (though a little wit certainly doesn’t hurt). Go back and look at Jobs’ comments in interviews with Rolling Stone magazine or Vox Recode or his open letter to the music industry. They serve now as primers for how to address the public. For sure, you’ll draw fire from people who disagree with you, but that happens anytime anyone writes anything of significance. 

Keep in mind that sparking debate is not the worst thing that can happen to a thought leadership piece. The worst is for the material to be ignored.