If you’re reading this, you are already displaying the right behaviours and an appetite to learn. This narrative will argue that it is no longer enough to aspire to be a thought leader today and that to truly connect with your customers and talent, you must target becoming a social leader.  

First, let’s explore what I personally mean by thought leadership. For me, it is most certainly not the exclusive domain of those with the most years under their belt. Some of today’s best perspectives in fact emanate from those starting out their career with an alternative view of the world. Thought leadership is about having and being brave enough to share your opinions.  

Let’s break down what ‘thought leadership’ in literal terms means; 

Thought – for me this is not about random thoughts. It is about keeping up to date so your perspectives are relevant and topical. It is about meaningful, relevant thoughts that tie in with the space you operate in as an individual or with your company’s strategy. 

Leadership – for me this is best summarised as pioneering behaviour, establishing clear purpose, providing direction and clarity, driving change and importantly standing for something. 

Good leaders share their thought leadership regularly via company presentations, internal communication and conference stages. Arguably, there are many leaders who tick these boxes. But that’s no longer enough. Brilliant leaders have an omnipresent, consistent voice and share continually and widely. 

Standing up in front of your people regularly is key, but again for me, still not enough. The tools to facilitate daily thought leadership have existed for some time now. I believe passionately that we should be replacing the term ‘thought’ leadership with “social leadership”. By this I mean, not only having an active social media presence, but living your vision, leadership and values authentically via your every day behaviour and these open social platforms.  

With the multitude of easy to use publishing distribution platforms (from Linkedin to Twitter and Medium) there is today zero excuse for not, one:  having an active social presence, and two:  being an active content creator and sharing your thought leadership with both your talent and customers. This will pay back in terms of both customer engagement and talent engagement, both existing and future. 

When a prospective customer or candidate, inevitably looks up you or your company on LinkedIn or Twitter, and finds sporadic, ill-defined content or worse still they can’t find you at all, you have failed at the first hurdle. This is the modern day equivalent of “first impressions matter”. Likewise, with the shoe on the other foot, given my own active social presence, I am increasingly disappointed with candidates who fail to take the time (a five minute scan on Twitter to be exact) to understand the topics that are important to me personally and to Havas. 

I truly believe that the “social business” & the “social CEO” will become the norm in years to come. Today, most businesses and business leaders have yet to grasp this. There are notable high profile exceptions like Richard Branson and CEO of O2, Ronan Dunne. Both use social to inspire and coach but also to share the initiatives and values that are important to them. 

With digitally native Millennials set to account for 50% of the global workplace by 2020 (pwc), this more “human” form of leadership and talent engagement must be embraced. Talent engagement is no longer about command and control, it’s about inspiring and nudging your people so they feel compelled to deliver (and enhance) your vision. Today’s benchmark for whether they feel sufficiently inspired is whether they choose to personally become an advocate for the business they work for, employing their own social channels. Coining a phrase from Ted Coine, author of A World Gone Social we are seeing the powerful emergence of the “social employee”. 

At Havas – we have already embarked on this journey – check out our #havastogether and #meaningfulplacetowork hashtags that capture some of our talent engagement programs, designed to provide the palette for our people to help paint our stories in their own, personal ways. 

Social enables anyone with an opinion a frictionless outlet to start sharing their opinions and to judge what people think of this content through real-time feedback. In my humble opinion, leaders from all walks of the marketing and communications industry should be pioneering this change in their own businesses and lobbying their senior teams to lean in to social leadership.

I would also strongly encourage those at all levels to consider blogging and having an active social presence; illustrating these leading qualities in social has another major benefit. You get noticed and stand out from the crowd. Building your personal brand has never been so easy, so why not start today? I’m willing to bet that it won’t be long before those around you start referring to you as a thought leader.