Content Creation: Beyond Thought Leadership

As a professional blogger with a healthy client list, I’m pretty busy. That doesn’t stop me from scanning the job ads occasionally, just in case a dream gig for a dream client comes along. (Hey, it’s happened before, so it could happen again!).


The trouble with job ads, though, is that they are full of the latest business and marketing buzzwords. You know the ones: people wanting posts that are “data driven”, writing that “pops” and, my pet peeve today, content that shows “thought leadership”. Jargon has its place, but often it’s just empty, and there’s no reason to use it. That’s the case with most uses of “thought leadership”.



Why I Dislike the Term “Thought Leadership”

The term “thought leadership” was used in a book by Joel Kurtzman in 1994, though the practice pre-dates the book by a few decades. Recently PR, marketing and branding specialists have co-opted it as a “good thing” (which is probably why it keeps turning up in job ads).

One reason I dislike the term is that, when I look at the examples often cited in the job ads, I agree with the Financial Post:most content labeled as “thought leadership” is actually missing the elements of both “thought” and “leadership”.”

As a professional writer, I can’t get excited about producing that kind of work. It’s just so “me too”. πŸ™

Can a Writer Make You a Thought Leader?

But more than that, the people looking for outsourced writers to create “thought leadership” content have no idea how big the ask is. How is someone else going to have an original thought about your business? How can any writer know your business better than you can? Short answer: they can’t.

Yes, writers can create excellent written content, but while many writers are versatile, they can’t think for you. Thought leadership is about authority, about providing a new perspective on an issue, about attempting to solve issues, about showing your passion for a subject.

Passion and expertise make people take notice. Unique viewpoints and true problem solving make people take notice. Maybe we should call it “thought provoking leadership” instead – making people think differently about an issue they might otherwise have taken for granted or ignored.

As the Financial Post says: “True thought leadership isn’t something your public relations team can create or carry.” That goes for your writer too.

How to Work with a Writer to Create Thought Provoking Content

Not everyone can be a true thought leader. If you are one of the few, then here’s how you work with a writer: let your writer into your thought process, showcase your passion for your topic and explain the direction you want the writer to take. In other words, collaborate to create something well-researched, well written and thought-provoking. Now that’s true thought leadership. [But for goodness’ sake, loseΒ the jargon and call it something else!]

21 thoughts on “Content Creation: Beyond Thought Leadership”

  1. “Thought leadership” …
    Sounds like the proverbial “think tank” to me. Remember when that one was floating around? LOL!

    Furthermore, it comes across as something that would roll off the tongue of a dry, boring corporate speaker. And you know how jargon-y those folks can be! πŸ˜‰

    LOVE this! “Maybe we should call it thought provoking leadership”. Slam dunk!

  2. Hello Sharon,

    Can I just say, “Thank You!”

    I’ve had to tell a few clients exactly what you’ve stated: they know their businesses better than I do and the “leadership” for writing something coming from them had to come from them.

    A jargon busting mission? Glad you chose to accept.

    • Thanks, Vernessa. I have that conversation often. On the flip side, when you work with someone who gets it, it can work well. If a client gives his unique take on an issue, then I can flesh it out into a well-rounded piece.

  3. Sharon, I blame Internet Marketing Gurus. LOL.
    No, it’s my fault for believing the the idea that – somehow – Google and content producers = easy sales.

    I think you understand me. The authority-site-as-bludgeon to corral all that traffic Google sends? Well, that concept wasn’t a “thing” when I first started. Back then, it made sense to me that outsourcing sales letter copy was the way to go.

    Now, after having written numerous posts on my own strength, I understand what your article as saying. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to ask anyone to take my ideas and relay them as I would like to see them. (I hope that doesn’t come off as arrogant – I’m simply saying that I KNOW MY OWN MADNESS…better than anyone else.)



      • I have to thank face-to-face networking luncheons for many of the insights.
        Speaking that, your article would apply to the presentation crowd, too!

        I can still remember random individuals who stood out at those meetings. They didn’t try to sell anything: they shared their knowledge.



  4. Totally agree that it’s often used as a vapid excuse for having nothing better to say! I love what you said about thought provoking. Now maybe someone is going to co-opt that and before you know it, you will have invented your very own buzzword!

  5. Great post Sharon! I say take the pressure off. Stop holding yourself to the idea of being a “thought leader”, and just be YOU with your unique ideas and je ne sais quoi! No thought leader became so because they woke up one morning and were like: You know what, I’m going to be a thought leader today, watch out world.

    Never happened. They just did it.

  6. Wow Sharon..I had not thought about it that way before and I thank you for choosing this topic for the carnival excellent. I absolutely love “thought provoking leadership” – talk about a full description that you can touch and feel that removes any and all questions. I think Carol is so right…people really don’t have much to say or don’t know how to say it so they use something they see as a buzz word vs. taking a risk and creating their own..I so appreciate your “thoughts” on this post….You are da bomb!

  7. Sharon, I think this is like so many clichés. Back when Joel Kurtzman used it (thanks for that bit of trivia ;-)), it was original – and dare I say – thought-provoking. :-D. After it’s used over and over and run into the ground, its impact is like the sound of a Halloween pumpkin hitting the sidewalk. πŸ˜‰

  8. I totally agree with what Mitchell says above: File under meaningless jargon invented by internet marketers to make themselves sound cooler, smarter, more successful, more like they know what they’re talking about, etc.

    If I see a job ad that says that, it says to me: “I want you to figure out my business for me.” There’s too much of that.

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