A friend of mine has a great job as a web developer. Recently, in his off time, he published a 6500-word analysis of a tech company’s website that got some industry attention. I asked him, “Joe, I know you’re busy; you’ve got a good, and demanding, job. Why did you bother?” His answer was on point. He said, “According to the world, if you don’t write it down, you don’t know it.”
He’s right, of course. Today, the perceived expert is the person who puts his or her knowledge and opinion down in writing. Or on video. Or audio. It’s called “thought leadership.” For example, there might be 200 child therapists in your county, but the one who writes an eBook or ‘white paper’ titled “Helping The Depressed Child: Strategies for Parents and Helping Professionals” is the therapist who is most likely to stand out from the fray. While there might be dozens of competent child therapists, it’s that therapist-author whose phone won’t stop ringing.
Every once in awhile someone publishes a work that is groundbreaking and that captures the hearts and minds of all those who read it. Think “The Road Less Traveled.” Think “Eat Pray Love.” And then forget it, because that’s not what we’re talking about. In the example above, it doesn’t matter that the work “Helping the Depressed Child” is under 10,000 words. It doesn’t matter that the material isn’t mind blowing. It doesn’t matter that the content borrows heavily from (and appropriately references) other practitioners and researchers. The work needs to provide value, and be well put together; and with that “base hit” (as opposed to a home run) the person whose name is on the cover wins.

If you think this is low hanging fruit, you’re right. And few people pick it. Why?

The Professional’s Dilemma

Ray is a business professional I admire. He’s managed numerous successful companies. He has a website to promote his business consulting services. He recorded instructional videos on various business topics and published them on that website.

Then he took the videos down.

Then, with his wife’s prodding, he put them back up.

Then he took them down.

I asked him why the back and forth. He said that he felt embarrassed. He couldn’t stop thinking that maybe they weren’t any good. Maybe he looked foolish. Of course, none of the above was true. This highly capable, well respected, and otherwise confident man had overwhelming stress about a batch of short YouTube videos.

Whether it’s written, audio, or video, one can feel a lot self doubt when it comes to thought leadership. As a professional in any field, you’re acutely aware that even with years of experience someone knows more than you. Moreover, many accomplished professionals worry about being inadequate or fraudulent. Researchers have found that such worry is common and that it positively correlates with–paradoxically–competence! On the contrary, slackers, imposters, and the truly incompetent tend not to worry about being fakes. The take home: if you’re worried you’re a fake, you’re probably not.

Still not convinced? Put emotion aside and look at the evidence. What have been your achievements? Have you passed competency exams? How have superiors and colleagues regarded you? If you’re really a fake, you must also be a genius because you’ve done a magnificent job convincing the rest of the world you’re the real deal.

The Freedom to Say What You Want

What’s the alternative to not participating in thought leadership? You keep your insights to yourself, and then you’re perplexed when somebody with half your credentials and a tenth of your experience writes a book or records a webcast that gets lots of accolades. You think, “Hey, I could have done that! I could have done better!”
Check out YouTube star “PrinceEA.” He’s not a licensed therapist. His production values aren’t high. Still, his videos get hundreds of thousands of views. He’s passionate. He’s inspiring. He’s showing up and sharing his insights, and his ideas resonate with people. I don’t think PrinceEA worried about what the professional community would think about his videos when he started making them. It seems, sometimes one’s credentials are an asset, and sometimes they can hold you back.

Getting Started

If this is your first foray into thought leadership, let’s get started with a schedule that’s realistic and obtainable. Commit to publishing one piece of thought leadership a month. It doesn’t matter the format, or the length.

Plan out one year’s worth of content by writing down 12 titles (titles, not just topics). Focus on subject matter that you know, that you’re excited about, and take a novel angle. Here’s an example: “Why you Resort to Emotional Blackmail: 3 Reasons, 3 Solutions.” I like this angle because most articles on the topic are about resisting emotional blackmail, and this piece targets the person who tends to heap guilt on others.

Decide where you’ll publish your material. Common places you can post:

  • On your website
  • On your Facebook page
  • Create a blog at Blogspot or WordPress
  • Create a YouTube channel
  • Contribute to a friend’s website
  • Contribute to an active site like Psychcentral, or Thriveworks
  • Write for a community website, or local paper

Thought Leadership: It’s Not About Ego

Participating in thought leadership isn’t about ego, or about letting the world see that you’re smarter than everyone else. Thought leadership is about adding value to your community and providing help to others. Keeping this “for others” perspective can help you to proceed with less worry, and might even set you and your practice up for unprecedented success.

1Thought leadership could also be a live speech (doesn’t have to be recorded, but it helps).
2Ray and Joe are not the real names. Real people though.