Transcript: The Culture of Thought Leadership (EP46)
Brendan: Hello and welcome to The Culture of Things podcast. I'm your host Brendan Rogers and this is episode 46. Today I'm talking with Peter Winick. Peter is the Founder and CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage. For the past two decades, he has helped individuals and organisations build and grow revenue streams through designing and growing their thought leadership platforms. As well as acting as a guide and advisor for increasing business-to-business sales of Thought Leadership products.
His clients come from a diverse set of backgrounds and specialties. They include New York Times best-selling business book authors, members of the speaker's hall of fame, recipients of the Thinkers 50 award, CEOs of public and privately held companies, and academics at prestigious institutions such as Yale, Wharton, Dartmouth, and London School of Business.
Peter uses a combination of art, science, logic, focus, passion, and creativity to transform a thought leader’s great ideas into a platform and practice so they can effectively reach business leaders and executives to serve them the tools they and their organisations need.
Today, we're going to learn more about this concept known as thought leadership and how to become a thought leader. Peter, welcome to The Culture of Things podcast.
Peter: Thanks for having me, Brendan.
Brendan: It's a pleasure. You’ve been doing a few podcasts of late too. You've got your own show, and you've also been on some other show. I've got to raise this for our listeners. You were recently on the On Leadership podcast, which is a FranklinCovey podcast, and I think, the number one business podcast in the world. Geez mate, that's a fantastic accolade to have.
Peter: Yeah. No, no, thank you. It was an honour to be on that one with Scott Miller not too long ago. It's great, a fantastic podcast that I was glad to be able to contribute.
Brendan: Thanks for coming on The Culture of Things podcast, really appreciate your time. You're a man that has spent 20+ years in this whole thought leadership space, and that's what we want to learn a bit about today. How about let's dive in because you got a lot of nuggets of gold to share, I'm sure. What is this term thought leadership?
Peter: I love that question because there is no uniform, common accepted definition. If you and I were to discuss lunch, we know that that's the meal in the middle of the day. I wouldn't show up at two in the morning, and you wouldn't show up at five in the afternoon. If we were to discuss finance and balance sheets, we know what we're talking about.
First of all, people throw this term around all over the place. For me, I think it's important to have some sort of framing and definition. The one that I use, and it might not be perfect and there might be better ones, but at least as a starting point for a conversation with the client, there are two pieces to it, I’ll break it in half.
Number one, thought, but what does that mean? That means what you're saying is smart, wise, evidence-based, it might be research-based, experience-based, but it's thoughtful. This isn't about kitschy or how would that look on Twitter or Instagram. There is a depth to this that is thoughtful. In a space that I acknowledge and respect others have gone before. It's very rare that a branch of thought leadership is totally new and unique. Leadership has been around, management has been around, resilience has been around. You're adding and basically standing on the proverbial shoulders of giants.
The other half of the word is where it gets really interesting is the leadership. What does leadership mean? To me, leadership and thought leadership is that you have the guts and the courage to lead the conversation of the discipline into a new direction, into un-chartered waters, into an area they haven't looked at before. Because if you're just regurgitating what I already know, if you're just telling me the things that I've seen elsewhere, that's not leadership.
It may be thoughtful, it might be great content, it might even be valuable to the right audience at the right time, but are you really leading the discipline into another area? In order to have the courage to do that, (a) you got to get your stuff out there, but (b) you have to not be worried, concerned, et cetera with everyone has to agree with me. No, everyone doesn't have to agree with you. In fact, if some sub-percentage of the population doesn't disagree with you, then you're doing something wrong. That's my definition.
The other piece of the way I look at that question is what else is out there that people confuse with thought leadership that's not? There's content marketing. Content marketing is great. We all know its purpose is to use content to market a product, good, or service. If I'm Staples and I sell office products, I might want to put some content out there on how not to jam up the copy machine in the office. That's great, not thought leadership.
There's subject matter expertise where there might be three people in the world that know everything there is to know about train accidents or something like that. That's interesting. It's really not thought leadership in that the audience or the impact that that can have is fairly limited based on the specificity and the narrowness of the domain expertise.
Brendan: You covered what is thought leadership and what isn't thought leadership in that definition, which is fantastic. Thank you very much because I think there is always a lot of confusion about what thought leadership is. Where did this term actually come from? I know it was way back around 1994, but what was the basis around it? Are you aware of that?
Peter: I don't know the official origin because I’ve read multiple things that actually, it was thrown around in the '50s, '60s, and academia a little bit. My belief from my experience where it evolved—I'll tell you my story. If I go back to when I started the firm almost 15 years ago, the term guru made me nauseous. Everybody was a leadership guru, a management guru, or a sales guru, and I was like, what is that? I'm not sitting cross-legged on the floor in a robe, teaching people about resilience or whatever.
Guru was the term they came up with. Then it was like, okay a lot of people look at that and said guru, I don't like that. What sounds better than that? It sort of came out there and stuck a little bit. I don't know exactly where it came from, but it's better than guru. I think there has been some, what I would call thought leadership inflation going on in the world.
Brendan: Two things, I'll make sure I don't call you guru at any point in time. The call might end abruptly. The second thing is that thought leadership, and you reference this, there are lots of jazzy terms that come up. All of a sudden, especially with social media nowadays, there are people putting those jazzy terms on their profiles. I did some research in preparation for this interview. I went through LinkedIn because I thought, well, I'm probably not going to find thought leadership on Facebook—maybe, maybe not. People are in that professional situation. I found over 1.3 million people with thought leadership in their title, tagline, or whatever.
Peter: That's shocking and offensive to me.
Brendan: Tell me why that is?
Peter: It's just not possible. First off, let me go backward. Anybody that is calling themselves a thought leader is a jerk. A thought leader is also—and I should have included this in the definition—not something one bestows on oneself but for others in the field, that you were admired, or that is respected by others in the community that you practice bestow upon you. Hey, Brendon is a thought leader in the area of culture, great. As opposed to you going out there saying, hey, I'm the culture thought leader. No.
I think people putting that out there on LinkedIn—1.3 million people, really? No. It's illegal to go out there and say you're a dentist in most countries unless you have certain qualifications, credentials, et cetera. I'm not suggesting that we need to have a test to be a thought leader, but I would ask probably 1.29 million of those 1.3 million people why do you believe that you're a thought leader? What makes you think that?
I think that we’re living in a little bit of a time where it's a sexy, cool title. I was here before it was sexy and cool, where it was really just a fascinating discipline, a fascinating practice area.
Brendan: That's a great segue into what I really always love to get to know the inside of the mind of a guest is what got you into this space? Why did you think this was going to be cool, I could actually make a really good living and help people leverage their thought leadership to make successful businesses?
Peter: There are two answers to that question. The first answer is going back in my history, 30 some years now. There was a time where I was young, I was an entrepreneur, I was underfunded, and all those other things. I was also—at that same time and prior to that—a total dork, a nerd, and a book geek. But I never saw those two things as related. It's like, okay, by day an entrepreneur, and many [...] on weekends. When I had time, one of the books I'm reading, the magazines I’m reading and all that sort of stuff.
Then those two worlds collided for me in the mid odds when I got brought in to do a turnaround and communications consulting firm. Actually, we're based in Australia, but we took over the North American operation. I just got brought in there through a friend. I was running a consulting company. At the time, he was doing turnaround work. I've never done turnaround work, but pretty entrepreneurial.
The first thing I learned there is, wow, this whole company—here’s a $40 million–$50 million (whatever it was) company globally. It’s been around 50 years making money and employing a couple of hundred people based on a book that somebody wrote in 1968 or whatever it was. That's pretty cool. That is thought leadership, that is the IP, that is the principles, and all that sort of stuff.
It needed to be refined, put into new modalities, and all that other stuff. I realised there's a business side of thought leadership. I was like, wow, a lot of the things that I'm just wired for as an entrepreneur, the semi-savvy business person applied in that world. I partnered with a guy that was launching a book in 2005 called Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi and was instrumental in the launch of the book, the business, and all that. I realised, wow, there's a whole world of thought leaders that could use some assistance on the strategy side, the marketing side.
There's a whole bunch of things that I and my firm do, and there's a bunch of things that we don't. We don't create thought leadership. We have some of our own. The client doesn't come to us and say, oh, write a book for us. No, that's called a ghostwriter. We don't create great ideas in the thought leaders. We're the ones that know how to develop the strategy so that you can leverage, monetise, and scale for the impact the thought leadership that you have.
Back in 2005, I don't think Facebook was on yet, I don't think LinkedIn was on yet, I don't think Twitter was on. If they were, they were but a shadow or shell of what they are today. There were a lot of intermediaries in the industry. There were book agents that you needed to go through, there were speaking agents that you need to go through.
That was all changing. I think what I saw was, wow, okay, once this opens up, the average thought leader is in deep trouble because they don't know where to go. They're not going to know where to go. They want to do their research, they want to write their books, they want to be speakers, they want to be talking to clients. They don't want to be masters of social media, with a couple of exceptions.
How do they become masters of all these things to be successful? Because it used to be, if you were a great thought leader as defined by producing great content, others could figure out how to do the distribution and all that. That all sort of blew up in the mid-2000s and continues to change and evolve to today, actually.
Brendan: You've sort of explained a bit about that. We touched on the journey of your 20 or so years and 15 years in your company, how you've seen that involved. What are you seeing today around the thought leaders that are really producing and coming up with excellent stuff that's really leading the field? What does that look like? I'd love you to take that journey into your own crystal ball premonition of what you see thought leadership look like in the future.
Peter: Let me split that because there's the good, the bad, and the ugly answer to that. Part of the good is as a result of COVID‚ and we're still more so in North America than where you are. Heavily, heavily, heavily, impacted by COVID.
One of the things that happened that's positive is if I would have asked a bunch of my clients a year and a change ago, hey what's on your mind? There’s this book I want to write, this program I want to update, or another speaking of. There's so much [...]. Well, what's holding you back from doing that? Well, geez. I'm traveling, and I'm on airplanes. I'm doing all this delivery. I’ve carved out a couple of weeks over the summer to go to the cabin. And then all of a sudden the world stopped.
There is absolutely—and we're just at the tip of seeing the first wave of this—a renaissance that I think is going to continue for the next 6, 18, 24 months of sort of pent up thought leadership that was partially on someone's hard drive, they’ve been noodling about it. But now you give a whole bunch of really, really smart passionate people more time than they thought they would have last year. What do they do? They create great stuff. That's just giving artists a brush and a canvas, they will paint. That's ultimately what happens.
I think that's a good thing that it forced people to, not force people, but they didn't just sit there and watch Netflix all day. A good. I can carve out half my game, work on this thing.
The bad is the markets that supported them, paid them, and supported the industry have totally changed. Many of the markets, not all. The speaking business—where many, many, many of my clients got rich, fat, and to some degree happening lazy—was pretty straightforward. Get on a plane, go to Denver, do your thing, get paid $25,000, get on another plane, go to LA, do that. Rinse, lather, repeat, do that a handful of times a month, a dozen times a month, or whatever it is, and you make a pretty good living, and it's not all that complicated to do.
In terms of operationally, in terms of a seven-figure business, you need an admin and some web help. Not all that tough. That goes away. At least here in the States, into lockdown and all the events closed, where is their money coming from now? Who's paying them? Because they are not getting paid the same dollars to deliver their content in a format like this on a Zoom because the clients just don't see it as the same value.
If I’m having a big conference in Scottsdale, Las Vegas, London, Sydney, or whatever, and bring in the big speaker. That's great. There’s something about the experience of being in the same room with (fill in the blank) your favourite author seeing them deliver their stuff. Most companies don't want to pay $30,000, $40,000, or $25,000 for that because it's like, well, I can just buy people a copy of your book, or I can just go watch your Ted talk. You have so much video out there.
Now what's happening is, it's forcing folks that were making a nice living in a fairly predictable, steady way to reexamine strategically. Wait a minute, I still have something valuable to say, many things to say, still people that benefit and appreciate and value what I have to say. What's the economic relationship look like? How do I have to deliver that? Does that mean putting it into scalable digital solutions? Does it mean consulting? Does it mean [...]?
There’s a lot of ways that you can put content that is of value to a different market, but you have to reexamine everything. I think one lesson that COVID has taught all of us is, this isn't about resuming, we're not just going back to what we used to do. This is a forced opportunity to reinvent everything that you believe to be true and everything that you've done as an operator is a business owner, and question if it will survive, sustain, thrive, or die in this environment.
Brendan: With the COVID situation-specific, I suppose as you referred to it, is very much still, there’s progress in Australia as well. We're in a lot better situation, I guess, fortunately than what you guys have in the States. If you got an example that can really help people really cement this understanding of thought leadership and what people are doing that, I guess it stood out for you in COVID, a client you've worked with, or just something you've seen through this thought leadership space of like, hey, that's really reinventing, that's really changing the landscape.
Peter: I'll answer that, and I feel like there's a pattern here in two ways. One is the content. First off, content which is the basis of thought leadership is in support of the business world, at least the world that I work in. All of my clients are B2B. We don't do self-help, love and romance, and all that stuff. It's not that it's bad, some of it is. That's just not where we choose to practice. In the B2B world, if you're putting thought leadership out into the business community, businesses are cyclical.
If you go back to the first quarter of 2020 and say, what was the thought leadership that was in the highest amount at that point in time? Only but a year ago. I'm not talking about the 1800s here. It was the war for talent. The economy was on fire. Companies were fighting for the highest talent and understanding that a great engineer or a great coder is a hundred times more valuable than a mediocre one. What are they going to do about it?
There's this whole war for talent. There's work-life balance type stuff—burnout, and mindfulness in the workplace. Really being mindful of are we pushing people too hard? The culture was a big one. I mean, those are just a couple of examples that come to mind.
Fast forward within a month or two of COVID. Work-life balance, that's out the window. I'm in my office, my spouse is working out of the bathroom, and my kids are homeschooling. That ain't balance, that is we are out of balance right now. Putting out thought leadership about where to draw the boundaries between work and life would be tone-deaf. The war for talent when—at least in this country—10 million people, if not more, lost their employment is just tone-deaf.
Now it's about things that we're starting to see on the content side. How do you manage—and this probably plays into your wheelhouse, Brendan—culture in a remote world? How do I recruit, hire, onboard, and support my culture in a world where I don't know when I'm going to see my colleagues again? Physically, I mean, I'll see them remotely. That's the world that we're living in North America right now.
I live in New York, occupancy of offices, office tenants meaning how many people come to the office building every day? The last I saw is under 20%. That's huge. One out of five people is going to the office. That means four out of five people aren't. How do you maintain the integrity of your culture? How do you manage your career? How do you understand—there's a huge push, primarily as a result of the George Floyd horrific incidents here in the State—to up-level diversity and inclusion training? It has to mean something else.
There's a huge push for frontline managers to have an awareness that they never needed to have before of mental health. It's not to say that we need to take every frontline manager and make them a Ph.D. in Psychology. But it used to be as a manager, you were trained. If I got 10 people and it looks like Brendan's in a bit of a rut here, we will have a coffee. What's wrong Brendan? I notice that your work quality isn't good. Oh gee, well, I'm going through a rough patch, divorce, health, illness, or whatever. I can figure out how to accommodate you as best I can as a manager.
Now, I got everybody on the teams going through mental health issues, whether they admit it or not. The stress is up, the anxiety is up, We’re worried about her physical safety, and all that stuff. Those are new things that there's more focus on today that we wouldn't have predicted but a year and a change ago. That’s answering your questions through the lens of content.
Through the lens of format, which I think you touched on both. If I can’t deliver it in person, how else can I deliver it and where is their value? We’re seeing a lot of digitisation, e-learning, micro-learning, all that sort of thing opening. I think that’s great. All COVID did at one level is accelerate the inevitable there. The days of the three-day workshop which were waning anyway, are waning even more.
Moving our logic from push learning to pull. Push is I’m going to shove everything I know about negotiations through this device into your brain, Brendan. This way you’ll be a better negotiator. What we know now from an adult learning perspective is there’s something I do need to push. If we’re going to talk about a framework on negotiation, I have to give you some language, models, and definitions. That’s push.
But pull, which is, oh, tomorrow, Brendan has a negotiation with a potential client. You’re going to want to pull down some refresher videos or whatever that are very contextual and very relevant because, at 2:00 PM tomorrow, you have an issue that this relates to. This combination of push and pull learning is changing.
Peer to peer, we’ve learned that, hey we should all learn from one another. It doesn’t have to be the smartest, the most credential guy in the room, or the Zoom. How do I share knowledge with you? How do you share expertise with me? How do we support one another that way?
I think the modalities are changing a lot. How you capture value in that market is a little bit different.
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I’m going to be a bit selfish, Pete, and I’m going to say hey, you help me, you’re an expert in this thought leadership space. You’ve got your Thought Leadership Leverage business successful. Some of the people in your gallery, I can’t profess to know heaps and heaps of their names, but some of the names I’m looking at where Pete is sitting next to Jack Welch, Brian Tracey, Seth Godin, Daniel Pink, Richard Branson, Stephen M. R. Covey. There are some pretty high-level names there.
This is where I get selfish. Peter, I’m just normal, ordinary Brendan Rogers. I do some leadership teamwork, culture work with organisations and leaders. I’ve got a podcast, I want to become a thought leader. First of all, is that even realistic? Is that something that I need to put in my head, and what do I do? How do you help me?
Peter: Yeah. The irony is, more of my clients look like you than look like the folks that you mentioned in the pictures I’ve been in. Some of those are events, some of those have been clients, et cetera. But quite frankly, Daniel Pink doesn’t need my help. I love his work. We’ve met several times. I don’t know if we’re friends, but we’ve been to similar events. We email once in a while. He’s doing all right. Probably doesn’t need my help right now.
Maybe, actually, I don’t know the state of his speaking business, but he’s got it working. Covey knows how to do it. More of my clients are more aspirational. Where you have domain expertise. You have a certain platform on the podcast. You have goals and objectives. What I would say to someone like you, Brendan, that looks more and more like my clients is great, let’s talk about that.
What are the goals that you’re trying to achieve that you think thought leadership would help? Are you looking to monetise the thought leadership directly like many of my clients? Are you looking to use thought leadership as an entry into other things, to monetise your content, or monetise something else that you’ve done—another business? You’re using it that way.
What does that look like for you? What are the constraints that you have? Skills, capability, time, resources, whatever. Who’s out there that you admire a lot in a similar domain or a similar space, and what is it that they’re doing that’s of interest to you? One thing is almost all of our clients are entrepreneurs. To some, that is a self-proclaimed I am an entrepreneur. To others, the reason behind that is because you’re such an outlier that no company would ever allow you to work for them for more than 90 days.
You’re disagreeable, you’re grumpy, you don’t follow the rules, you’re an outlier, whatever. There are voluntary and involuntary entrepreneurs. I always work with our clients and say, okay, I don’t want to create a role that looks like, one, you’re either not qualified for or would hate getting out of bed for every day to go. What jazzes you, what excites you, what is it about the perception of being a thought leader that’s sexy to you, that’s interesting, that’s intrinsically gratifying to you?
Brendan: Obviously you’re looking at myself. There’s a reference to an individual. The question that comes up for me is, does thought leadership need to be around an individual like some of those names I’ve mentioned? Can a company be a thought learning company? Is there a difference between the two?
Peter: Yeah. I would say that it’s a catch-22 with how much of it does it have to be the burden of me as an individual, and then how do I get away from that? I would say there’s a trajectory where we have clients where our initial objective is to make them really, really, really, really relevant. Get more people to be aware of them, get them out there, get them out there, get them out there.
Then we have other clients that are at that spot. Like okay, I’m tired, I don’t have a business that scales. I have practice. How do you make me irrelevant and 3X or 5X the top line of the company? At the risk of sounding like a consultant, it depends. There’s a time and place in the career to say no, we need to make you more relevant. You need to be the rockstar, you need to be the fact of the brand.
Then there are other times that say, you know what, how do we make sure that the intellectual property—the thought leadership—is able to extract value for you without you being in the room or these days in the Zoom? That’s the real goal is to be in that place where dollars are changing hands and impact this happening regardless of what your calendar looks like on a particular day of the week.
Brendan: Going back to what you said around this is someone that I follow, I use a number of people’s work. Patrick Lencioni is someone I’m really keen on in the workaround culture, leadership, and teamwork. Recently, he’s released something called The Six Working Geniuses. I’ve done that assessment, I’m starting to use it with my clients. Part of my genius is enablement and discernment.
Now, there’s a genius of invention. What I start to think about—again in thinking about you and the experience you have—is, is there a type of person or in that case a type of genius or a type of personality profile that fits the thought leadership bill more so than somebody else that is a really good practitioner of other people’s stuff?
Peter: I think that's a great question. There are different categories that we’ve come up with. There’s someone that’s focused on impact and legacy. There’s a growth-minded CEO. It really depends on how that person does what they do. Academics are an odd word. For most academics, they spend their days, weeks, and their months writing articles that nobody reads and debating an argument with people that nobody cares about. That’s just that world.
Then there’s a very, very small subset of academics that break out into the mainstream. Think Adam Grant, Dan Ariely, or a couple of others that aren’t coming to mind right now, that go mainstream. What is it about someone that has their roots in academia but can translate it into a general business piece? That’s a gift.
I don't know that to be a thought leader you have to be the inventor type. What you can’t be is just the charisma guy or gal. You can’t just be a bundle of energy. That’s called a great facilitator on Red Bull. That’s great, there’s a market for that, that’s not thought leadership. Those are the people that can deliver somebody else’s content at a good to a great level. Okay, that’s great. The world needs those people and God bless them, they’re lovely, and they’re wonderful. But they’re not really adding from. There are people that can play Macbeth and there are people that can’t.
Brendan: Sort of the motivational speaker coming to mind. But I guess they can be motivational speakers that can be thought leaders, but a chunk of them are just getting people motivated about something for a short period.
Peter: And I think the litmus test theory. Listen, there’s a market for entertainment—it’s shrinking right now from a thought leadership perspective. But I always say, as a result of the ideal avatar, the ideal target market being exposed to your work, having some intervention with your work, what’s the before and after? What’s the observable change? If you are the culture guru, you’re the culture expert, and you’re going to work with a company, I assume that their starting point is their culture isn’t where it wants to be, it’s lacking, maybe it’s toxic, maybe it’s not clearly identified.
The endpoint, the after is, wow, everybody here knows about this culture. We use it as a guiding principle. It helps us make business decisions. It helps us attract. It’s part of who we are. You can’t undo the culture from how we operate as a business. That’s the before and after. That’s the promise. If all you’re doing is getting up there and talking about here’s five years since why having a great culture is powerful. That’s interesting, but that’s not impactful.
Brendan: One of the things I refer to a bit is teamwork being the ultimate competitive advantage—how people interact and that drives so much in organisations. One of the things you refer to is thought leadership is a strategic competitive advantage. Tell us more about that. Why is that so?
Peter: I think that the world that we’re living in now—forget COVID, this is a non-COVID related issue—everyone, everything, everybody—whether it’s product-based or service-based—is being commodified at a far faster rate than any time in history. It doesn’t matter if you are the best, the biggest, the small—just commoditisation is happening. How does one fight commoditisation? Because commoditisation also means you get really bad pricing, you don’t stand out, you’re replaceable, you’re interchangeable, there is no loyalty, there’s no repeat.
Most thought leaders don’t aspire to be a commodity. I’m a culture guy. I’m just as good as the other one or the other one. Just pick one. Go to the phone book and Triple A Plumbing shows up first. What we don’t want is a Triple A cultured person. But that’s the way you have to think about it. How do I stand out and differentiate?
To me, it’s thought leadership. It’s one of the things that thought leadership does. You might not have the biggest brand, you might not have the biggest reach, you might not have the biggest balance sheet, but if you have a decent brain, you can punch far above your weight—vis-a-vis thought leadership—and show the world how smart you are, how good you are, how impactful you are, and out-maneuver your competitors and also a notch or two or three above in terms of size, tenure in the marketplace, reputation for others.
I always think good investments in thought leadership are an investment in your brand and in your marketing. The ROI is net new client acquisition. How many new clients will be attracted to you based on what they’ve seen, read, heard, whatever about who you are and what you do?
Brendan: Referring back to culture and I’ll bring this obviously back into thought leadership, there’s a lot of people out there that I find that don’t believe that they can codify their culture, there are no frameworks around culture, how I can lead better, or how I can l have the people interacting in teams better. There is. It really supports a good journey.
Is there something around thought leadership? Again, are there principles, are there frameworks, is there something around that says, you know what, I’m starting to understand this concept of thought leadership much better. Pete has been really helpful with that. But how do I support myself?. It’s not just a fluffy thought thing, there’s some substance behind that. Is there something like that in the thought leadership space?
Peter: We’ve developed over the years a whole suite of models, frameworks, methodologies, and tools. It’s not a one-size. Again, the consultant’s favourite answer is it depends, but it depends. We have a suite of various suites of various products, frameworks, and models that we use to help people with thought leadership. Now it depends on is it early on? Are we helping you actually develop it and get your thinking really tight—model work and all that sort of stuff? Is it to deploy it? Is it to accelerate the monetisation of it? What’s the goal? But we have models and things that we use for each of those because they’re not all the same.
Some people might be an expert in management, whatever that means. Hey, I’m a management expert. Okay, but that doesn’t mean you’re a thought leader in management. What is it that you believe is the colonel of your thought leadership? I’m a manager that believes that the power of management is connected to listening to every generation in the way they want to be heard. Okay, it’s intergenerational listening skills are your secret source in management. Okay, that’s interesting. Let’s play with that for a little bit.
And then we will take them through like does that hold water. Is that true? How do we know that that is true? Is that of interest to anybody? Does the market care for it? The other thing that a lot of thought leaders do is it’s easy to be the loner and to create in isolation, nose to the grindstone, and go, go, go, go without getting the feedback. I would rather have somebody tell me that is a really stupid idea and there is no value to something I spend an hour writing a 500-word blog than something that I spent a year writing a 300-page book.
The quicker you can get stuff out there to get feedback, market validation, or invalidation, it’s just feedback and it’s equally if not more valuable than spending a lot of time, energy, and money deploying things that have no market.
Brendan: You would have worked with a large number of people over the time you’ve been involved in having your own business in the thought leadership space. It’s always a hard one. Is there a project or a story that you have that for you just stands out above else? It might not be the success of it, but just the journey and the process of it that really got your juices flowing and you thought, this is why I do this stuff.
Peter: There have been so many. It’s like asking a favourite kid question. There have been many over the years. And again, not everybody has the same goal. We have worked with clients that when we started with them were fairly small by design—single shingle practitioners in a domain that they’re really, really good at. And when we ended, they might have still wanted to have that because they don’t want to manage people, are not good at that, but they can be making 3–4 times the money, be more well-known, and have clients coming to them begging to be on the waitlist than them going from gig to gig to gig. That’s incredibly successful.
We’ve had other ends of the continuum where we’ve worked with folks that have sold zillions of books. Their names are now part of the common language of business. That’s great too. And then we’ve had others where you don’t really see the impact.
One of the issues with B2B that’s interesting is it’s not as visible to the regular population. When you look at some of the work that we do, we could 10X somebody’s business by taking the work that they’ve got codified in a book that they had in a speech, turning it into programs that then get licensed into Google, Nike, J.P. Morgan or whatever. There’s no visibility to that, but it’s really powerful and impactful.
The way we try to understand where people are is by being really clear upfront with them around what their goals are. There are intrinsic goals like hey, I’ve already made all the money in the world. I just love getting an email from someone saying, you changed the way I think, and that’s why I’m doing this. That’s cool. That’s a different yardstick.
There’s another set of goals that say, well, I just want to be able to make a living doing my work, not delivering other people’s work. Okay, we can get there. And then there are others where I want to take my life’s work that I’ve spent 20, 30, 40 years on and start the process of converting those into other assets that can be sold off so the work lives beyond me. I can go off into the sunset or whatever the case is.
If you put the wrong set of goals or apply them in the wrong frameworks to an outcome that isn’t of interest to you, you can be "successful" but be a total failure to your client.
Brendan: Right. Thank you for explaining that. Again, a very diplomatic answer. I like what you said about it’s like asking for the favourite child thing. Well done in answering that. You didn’t reveal any favourite child.
Peter: The diplomacy has been out of favour in this stage for quite some time, [...] small doses if I can.
Brendan: Another area I really do want to ask in and pick your brain on is that, I know you made reference, and the thing that resonates with me around some of the interviews you did before is you made a reference at some point—I think more than once actually—to sarcastically the whole 23-year-old life coach scenario. That really resonated with me. But then when I turned around to thought leadership and helped me understand the concept of thought leadership better, where do people need to be in their career journey to start to be not made aware? Like you said, they can’t really call themselves a thought leader. That’s not it. But other people are referring to them as thought leaders.
Peter: I’m glad you’re going to maybe change your mind on the diplomacy comment in the moment. We use this with our clients all the time. Why in the hell would anyone listen to anything you said? State your case. Some of them said, well, I’ve been doing this for 40 years and I invented the wheel. Okay, well, that’s a reason. I’ve worked with some of the biggest investment companies. Okay, that’s a reason. I was the founder of Uber. Okay, that’s a reason. Because I like it. There are reasons that are reasons, and then there are reasons that are not reasons.
Why would anyone listen to you? More importantly, why would anyone pay you, and does what you say do what it says it’s going to do? I mean, I joke about the 23-year-old life coach because I think you need to have a little bit more life under your belt before you’re coaching others, but that’s one man’s opinion. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be a life coach until you’re 38.5 years old. Maybe there are 23-year-old life coaches that actually—I’m certified in this methodology, I’ve studied this. Okay, I get it. That makes your case.
But in an unregulated universe, if you take coaching as an example, there are coaches that are very qualified, very well studied, very well whatever. And then there are others that yesterday might have been a mortgage broker and today they were a coach. It’s not how I would pick a doctor. But my shorthand would be why would anyone listen to you, why would anyone pay you, and does what you say do what it promises to do?
Brendan: What’s the biggest challenge or the biggest problem that you see for the thought leadership space?
Peter: I don’t really see problems. I see opportunities. I think at an individual level, I am always very excited about what are the new modalities, how are people consuming content, how are they paying for content? Human nature is such like, listen, we were writing on the walls in the caves because that’s what we wanted to do. Then we’d read books, now it’s Ted talks, and now it’s micro-learning. There are so many ways.
Clubhouse has just exploded as an example in the last 45–60 days. If somebody would’ve told me a year ago in the pre-Zoom era because of COVID, oh there’s going to be this app when you go on it was audio-only. People would laugh at that. Maybe there’s something about the pulse of where we are today that where Zoom fatigued—if that’s a thing. I want to be able to turn the camera off and not have to look my best or whatever.
I don’t see threats. I think that the market gets smarter. The days of the cheesy motivational guys selling snake oil. One of the powers of the internet is people will call BS pretty quickly. If you’re making claims, if you’re plagiarising, if you do all these horrible things that people have done for a long time. You will get found out really quickly.
Brendan: You mentioned Clubhouse, so I got to ask you a question because one of the thoughts that came into my mind when I’ve played with that app a little bit is, have you ever thought about—you’ve got your own podcast—just opening up a room and recording the podcast like this but having sort of Clubhouse there. You’ve got a room open for the people listening to the live podcast?
Peter: Clubhouse, I downloaded the app not that long ago, I got invited, blah, blah, blah. It’s on my list of things to do by the end of the month is at least not to be a master, but to have an understanding. And then once I have an understanding, make a decision of does it fit into the strategy of the business. We eat our own dog food because people come to us all the time and say, oh TikTok. I’m like, wait a minute, hold on, you’re a leadership professor at a world-renowned university. Do you see what’s going on on TikTok? It’s fun, it’s cute, it’s entertaining, whatever. Do you really think your market is there and you really think that’s aligned with your brand?
You don’t have to be everywhere. You have to be where the people that matter to you will see you. Instagram is lovely, but to me, unless you’re in something that’s highly visual, most thought leaders don’t need to have a heavy presence on Instagram. But if you are a florist, an interior decorator, or a baker and you’re not. Shame on you, that’s a beautiful medium for that.
Brendan: Is there a social media platform that most resonates around the thought leadership space?
Peter: What we’re seeing right now in the last 18 months, 2 years is it used to be very, very fragmented. You had Twitter, you had ShareSlide. There are so many things. It appears that LinkedIn is winning the race, the [...] has won the race. It is the place. Because of the network effect and all that where it’s not about broadcasting but narrowcasting. You could find your tribe on LinkedIn. You could deliver very bespoke content to that market in multiple ways. You can do it on video, you can do it with the written word, and you can also find your audience.
We’re not living in a world where there are three channels on television. It’s the infinite number of things that we can be consuming. Where the people that matter most to me pulling down their content, spending their time, and devoting their attention, that’s where I need to be, and you need to get over yourself. What I mean by that is some people, geez, I hate to sound the sound of my voice. I don’t want to do a video. I’m a writer, I just like to write 3000 words.
Okay, if you’re only putting out long-form articles and your market is a market that will only reach short-form articles and light short-form video, you’re going to lose. You can stay doing what you like, or you can adjust what you do to reach the market that matters to you so that you can actually drive your business to the next level.
Brendan: I want to start to close this up. I want to get to your point of, again, you’ve got unbelievable experience in this thought leadership space. What advice would you give to people out there that have this thinking, they’re on this journey, they have maybe some ambition of being known as a thought leader at some point? Where do they start? What advice would you give them to start them on a journey that may well develop them into that space, it may well not? There’s a lot of steps to take along that journey, obviously.
Peter: It sounds like the obvious answer to that question will be, just start. Just start. Start writing, just start doing, just start that. But that’s not the answer I’m going to give you. The answer is, what is the strategy? What are you trying to achieve? Who are you trying to reach? How do they consume content? Have you done a competitive analysis? A lot of people are like, oh no, I bet this is a brand new idea on leadership. I don’t mean competitors in a Coke and Pepsi win-lose. What else is already out there in the marketplace? Is what you’re saying different, better, quicker, or faster?
I think it’s about having a strategy in place that supports you, and sometimes constraints and restraints are the best things we can have. Then it’s this ah, it’s obvious to me I shouldn’t do that. It’s obvious to me I should do this. And you use it as a way to make decisions and to gauge your progress along the way. A lot of the people just dive in very tactically. Clubhouse is a thing. Let me get on Clubhouse and I’ll start [...]. I’m a Clubhouse rockstar.
Okay, what were your business goals? What is the strategy? What is Clubhouse supposed to do for you? If you can’t answer that other than curiosity and something to do to spend your time, don’t kid yourself that you expect it to randomly do a lot of stuff and expect magic, unicorns, and rainbows that happen.
Brendan: It’s pretty hard to find those unicorns and rainbows when you need them, isn’t it?
Peter: Yeah. I got to stop looking for them. We get some rainbows after a good rain. But unicorns, I’m still looking.
Brendan: Absolutely. What do the next 12-24 months look like for you, your podcast, Thought Leadership Leverage? What are you excited about for the future?
Peter: That’s a great question. We launched a new practice area a year and a change ago pre-COVID called the organisational Thought Leader. And what that is is not the most uniquely named practice area. What that means is traditionally, we’d work with authors, speakers, thought leaders, small consultants, academics, et cetera.
What we found is there is a massive market for thought leadership in very large organisations—think high tech, think professional service, think financial services and institutions, et cetera—that need to develop and deploy thought leadership, not to monetise it directly, but to get their word and their message out there because they have another model for the business. Using that for marketing purposes.
That’s a practice area in the business that I’m really excited about. It’s growing, it’s growing quickly. We’re picking up new clients all the time. I think that’s going to be a high-growth area for us.
Brendan: All right. Well look, I’ve only known you for a short time, but in that short time, you’re a very, very astute chat with a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge. I’m sure whatever you put your mind to will work out pretty well.
Brendan: But we all need a few fails from time to time don’t we?
Peter: Yeah, that’s for sure. That’s the other thing is that thought leadership, at some level, is a low-risk game to put your stuff out there and realise it doesn’t require a ton of capital. It requires more courage than capital to get your stuff out there.
Brendan: Great point. Love that—more courage than capital. Mate, how can people get a hold of you?
Peter: I just like being called, mate. I think it’s very cool.
Brendan: That’s the official term.
Peter: That’s the official term, yeah. The best way you can get a hold of me is to email me, which is firstname.lastname@example.org. It actually goes to me, not a robot, an AI, or someone in Singapore. You could check out the website, thoughtleadershipleverage.com. The podcast is Leveraging Thought Leadership, which is on Spotify, iTunes, and wherever else you get your podcasts from. The usual social places—LinkedIn, Twitter, et cetera.
Brendan: That’s how we’re connected now. I just got to ask, you do prefer me calling you mate than guru?
Peter: Yeah. Oh God, yes.
Brendan: Fantastic. I’m safe then.
Brendan: Thank you so much for your time today, Peter. We met through LinkedIn. You’ve been really open and really generous with your time. I just want to thank you so much. That’s giving me so much more of a better understanding around thought leadership, what it’s about, and particularly what it’s not about. Even I have a little bit more robust conversations about people calling themselves thought leaders. Mate, thank you very much. I really appreciate it. Thanks for being a fantastic guest on The Culture of Things podcast today.
Peter: Thanks for having me, Brendan. Appreciate it.
Brendan: Peter has had the opportunity to meet and work with so many high-profile thought leaders over the last two decades. He’s a man who obviously knows his stuff around thought leadership, and how to leverage these thoughts and ideas in order to reach the masses and add value to so many people. It was a privilege talking to him and diving into his own thoughts and perspectives around what would seem to be an overused term—thought leadership.
It was a particular statement that Peter said during the interview which really stuck with me. Thought leadership is a low-risk game. It requires more courage than capital. How many of you have the courage to attempt to get on a path of thought leadership. These were my three key takeaways from my conversation with Peter.
My first key takeaway, thought leadership is bestowed on you by others. It isn’t or shouldn’t be something that you start calling yourself. With social media platforms today, it seems an all too common occurrence where individuals can give themselves a sexy title. Potentially, there are well over one million people on LinkedIn alone who were doing just that around thought leadership. If you are a true thought leader, people will naturally refer to you as one.
My second key takeaway, content is the basis of thought leadership. This doesn’t mean if you produce or push out lots of content that you are instantly a thought leader. You have to consume content and take either a unique perspective, have a unique experience, or can provide some unique resources around the subject matter you are immersed in. If you do this and it builds credibility, trust, and loyalty with your audience, then your content may just be considered by them to be thought-leading.
My third key takeaway, thought leadership is a strategic competitive advantage. I didn’t think that anything could rival teamwork as a competitive advantage. But based on how Peter explained his perspective on thought leadership, I was wrong. Teamwork and thought leadership both provide that extra something that can help boost business results and drive success in the chosen market. Thought leadership is definitely another strategic competitive advantage.
In summary, my three key takeaways were, thought leadership is bestowed on you by others, content is the basis of thought leadership, and thought leadership is a strategic competitive advantage.
I want to give a massive shoutout to my good friend Shea Wittig. Shea is the lead copywriter for The Culture of Things and has been with me on the journey since day one. Shea’s recently secured her dream opportunity at Ecotourism Australia. Well done Shea. All your hard work and dedication are definitely paying off. And thankfully for me, Shea has also agreed to continue to be part of the journey at The Culture of Things.
If you have any questions or feedback about this episode, feel free to send me a message at email@example.com. Thank you for listening. Stay safe, until next time.
Outtro (music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit brendanrogers.com.au to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.