47,356 Thought Leadership Mistakes

And 7.6543 ways you can prevent them
by Randy Shattuck, The Shattuck Group

Did you know that the average thought leadership piece today is plagued by more than 47,356 mistakes? I’ll bet you didn’t. But the really good news is that if you follow these 7.6543 principles, you’ll never commit these grave errors in your thought leadership. (Isn’t it simply wonderful of me to share these amazing, far-reaching, high-impact, buzz-word laden, actually worthless tripe of a waste of the English language insights with you?)

It’s just disgusting

How many times have you downloaded a white paper, joined a webinar, watched a video or listened to a podcast only to regret the time it took? I know I have. And I’m such a sucker for the “Seven Best Practices of This” and the “Five Biggest Mistakes for That.” Just put a number in it, and I’m immediately asking myself:  What do they know that I don’t? It’s awfully hard to sleep at night knowing someone out there knows things that I don’t know. I just have to get inside their head and see what the world looks like from their vantage point. Shhh. It’s an obsession!

But is it worth it?

This is the topic of conversation I’ve been having with a fellow thought leader who recently lamented that “what passes for thought leadership today is completely lacking in thoughtfulness.” I think he’s right. The state of thought leadership is nearly, dare I say it, dead.

I don’t know about you, but I used to have about a 50 percent hit rate. About 50 percent of everything I traded my valuable personal information for was actually worthwhile and helpful and the rest was, well, not so much. Now I’m pleased with a 20 percent hit rate. I’ve actually stopped downloading stuff because the quality of what I’m hearing is just so poor.

The problem is not that there aren’t thought leaders out there – there certainly are. But so many “contributors” are pumping out so much worthless junk that it’s hard to tell the good stuff from the tripe.

I’m wondering how many of you are having the same experience.

We can do better

Come on professional service people. We can do so much better. The time has come to create a strong delineation between true thought leadership and merely warmed over sales brochure content masquerading as an idea. So I’m going to outline some principles — and I won’t tell you how many, you’ll just have to read — to help you create really valuable thought leadership pieces that differentiate your brand and bring you real potential service buyers.

Thought leadership starts with your ideal clients – NOT YOU

To be a true thought leader, you have to be selfless, a giver. My definition of a thought leader is someone who “tells their ideal clients how to solve their most pressing problems and accomplish their most important business goals — in detail.”

Let’s be honest here. Will warmed-over sales brochure content do that? No, it won’t. And for people who think their ideas for services are so proprietary and unique that they cannot reveal at least parts of them — let me encourage you to do a Google search. Trust me. It’s out there.

So ask yourself these questions:

1. Who is my ideal client?

2. What do they care about most?

3. What problems are they trying to solve right now?

4. What major business goals are they passionate about in these difficult economic times?

Make a list of these, and you have a start for a thought leadership campaign.

Thought leadership requires more than just one person’s thoughts

Most of the really bad content out there comes from so-called thought leaders who seem to have no thoughts outside of their own. Here is a litmus test. If a thought leadership piece only references the author’s ideas, it’s really not “leadership” — it’s just blogging. Now blogging has its place, but let’s not confuse it with thought leadership.

True thought leadership, the kind with teeth that you can act on and implement as business strategy, includes relevant research, best practices from numerous successful organizations and a roadmap for how to apply the ideas in a business context.

Thought leadership doesn’t sell

Another important characteristic that marks thought leadership is its approach to selling. It doesn’t. Thought leaders know that the ideas alone are the proof statement of the value of their brand. They don’t need a “call to action” — although there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s understated — to realize value from a thought leadership piece. They don’t need the piece to generate 10,000 leads in less than 30 days.

I can tell, in some webinars, that the speaker is just itching to get to the call to action. They have so little faith in their ideas and the quality of their content that they are afraid they’ll lose people before the end of the webinar when they roll out the sales pitch. Ditch the pitch. True thought leadership doesn’t need it.

So now what?

Maybe I’m just letting off steam here, or just maybe you feel the same as I do. If you want to know how to get real value out of your thought leadership initiatives (warning, warning — call to action ahead) send me an email. I’d appreciate the opportunity to look at what you’ve done, what’s worked, what hasn’t and how you could improve it to help you reach your business goals.

About the author:

Randy Shattuck is a senior marketing executive and founder of
The Shattuck Group, a full-service marketing firm that specializes in assisting professional services firms. You can reach him at


  1. says

    Randy, you are spot on. Unfortunately there seems to be a perception that by generating or curating content you will automatically become a thought leader. It is probably the source of your frustration – I know it is mine.

    Quantity has taken the place of quality and the stuff with new insights has, to a large extent, all but disappeared. True thought leadership takes vision, effort and time. Sadly most businesses look for a quick, easy fix driven by a short-term focus on things like monthly and quarterly sales and performance reviews.

    This culture this breeds is the death of thought leadership and I believe the reason for your hit rate dropping from 50 to 20 percent.

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