The Marketing Strategist:

Mastering Thought Leadership: A Guide to Glide

June 24, 2015

cross country skiing Thought leadership is a lot like cross-country skiing: it’s easy enough to get started, but true mastery requires focus and dedication. Although there’s a tremendous satisfaction in seeing results from your first efforts, the ability to get the maximum return out of every motion depends on excellent technique and a high degree of coordination. To achieve any level of expertise, you have put a lot of work into perfecting a long list of different elements: stance, posture, poling, pushing, stride, balance. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start or what to work on next.

That’s why at ITSMA we’ve developed our Thought Leadership Maturity Model. It’s based on our extensive research on what makes thought leadership programs successful, especially our work with some of the industry’s thought leaders and other organizations at various stages of maturity.

The model describes the seven dimensions of thought leadership programs and highlights the attributes at each of four levels of maturity. It also points to the actions and areas for improvement needed to get to the next level of maturity. Despite the impressive sophistication of the best thought leadership programs out there, nobody has fully achieved the highest level of maturity.

Advancing to that fourth level of maturity is difficult, and no wonder: it requires perfecting and coordinating each of the seven dimensions of thought leadership. They are:

  • Strategic Focus—what constitutes thought leadership and how closely aligned it is to business strategy
  • Culture and Organization—how thought leadership is structured, managed, and integrated into the overall marketing operation
  • Program Operations and Resources—the level of investment, resources, processes, and tracking
  • Idea Development—how and where ideas are generated and how they are researched, vetted, and prioritized
  • Content Development—including taxonomy and packaging, portfolio management, and quality control
  • Field Enablement—embedding thought leadership into the sales approach and internal marketing of thought leadership
  • Content Dissemination—the schedule and channels for communicating thought leadership materials externally as well as promoting the visibility of subject matter experts

How well your skills are developed in each of these areas determines where you are on the maturity scale:

  • Level 1: Ad Hoc—The Entrepreneurs
  • Level 2: Enabled—The Collaborators
  • Level 3: Managed—The Thought Leaders
  • Level 4: Optimized—The Agenda Setters

Each level is characterized by a different level of investment and coordination and offers a different set of returns. In general, the more mature the thought leadership program, the higher the payback.

There’s a huge thrill in being able to pick right up at Level 1 and make headway with thought leadership. It’s like strapping on your skis and getting to enjoy the scenery on your first try. But the time and effort that you put into raising your thought leadership game bring even greater rewards. The better coordinated you are, the more impact you gain in every element of your thought leadership program. That’s when you’re able to generate real momentum, making the most of every effort because your technique is so good—gliding, not just pushing.

And as they say in cross-country, it’s all about the glide.

To get your thought leadership efforts on the right course, read ITSMA’s Thought Leadership Maturity Model. You can also take our Thought Leadership Maturity Assessment to see where you are today and what to concentrate on next.

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