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Academic Research for Thought-Leaders

Leverage 101: Using Academic Research to Strengthen a Thought Leader’s Message

academic-research-for-thought-leadersAround here most of us like to consider ourselves thought leaders. Today, I want to take a second and analyze the last part of that phrase — leader. It’s a fairly simple concept. We want people to trust us, to follow us. I like John Quincy Adams’ definition, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” “Inspire more” is the big piece of that phrase. How do we as thought leaders, inspire more?

In the past I’ve run through the importance of inspirational content (you can check that out here), but inspiration’s no recipe. You can’t just follow a few easy steps and bake at 375 for forty minutes. It takes development, passion, and maybe even a little luck. We can’t control all of those elements, but do have a say in how we develop our product.

As thought leaders, we’re idea people. We work in abstracts. When you’re working in the idea space people are constantly going to ask you why. “Why does your idea work?” “Why should I change?” “Why should I listen to you?” You’re selling them something; of course they’re not going to trust you. But people trust experts. So much so that in a January 2014 Nielsen study, unbiased, expert endorsement showed to increase a consumer’s likelihood of purchase by 67% (you can read that report for yourself here).

If you ever hope to inspire anyone, you have to be able to answer why.

Chances are you’re not the only person interested in leadership skills or productivity or whatever your specialty is—there are volumes of academic research, research done by people with lots of fancy letters after their name, that you can use to strengthen your content. None of history’s great leaders operated independently. Whether they worked with advisors, generals, or confidants, from Bill Gates to Napoleon, each of them found people who knew better than they did, that they could learn from, and utilized that wisdom.

There are two key ways I like to use academic research. The first is as a sort of logic check for content. If your vision is clashing with what the research says, then it might be time to step back and reevaluate your idea. On the other hand, if the research supports your ideas then you can find away to work that into your content.

The first way answers that “why” question, the second leverages it. Research is a natural marketing tool. You’ve done the research, everything checks out, you’ve applied it to your content—now you can approach potential clients with your product and say, “Don’t listen to me, listen to the experts.” Independent research is unbiased. They aren’t getting paid by your organization, aren’t trying to sell anything to anyone, they just want to know. So when an expert in your field says your idea checks out, it lends a bit more substance to your product, builds your credibility, and helps “inspire more.”

Research isn’t glamorous, but once you step off stage, walk away from the book signing, and step back into your office, back to where the real creation happens, thought leadership never is. I get it, research isn’t for everyone, but to be an effective leader it has to be a tool in your arsenal. If academia isn’t your thing, find someone who will do it for you. FDR wasn’t an economist when he implemented the New Deal, but he built a coalition of people who were. There are plenty of people out there that would be happy to dig around in a library and translate that information for you, you just have to seek them out.

Peter Winick has deep expertise in helping those with deep expertise. He is the CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Peter on Twitter!

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