Building an Executive Brand: Positioning Yourself as a Thought Leader in Your Industry

Building an Executive Brand: Positioning Yourself as a Thought Leader in Your Industry was originally published on uConnect External Content.

Lee Cockerell, a former VP of operations for Disney World, has positioned himself as a thought leader by focusing on a ]specific executive brand.

In his podcast, blog, and books, he has positioned himself as an expert in workplace culture in the service management industry. 

He also stays connected to the Disney theme. For instance, several of his books have the word “magic” in the title (including Career Magic: How to Stay on Track to Achieve a Stellar Career). 

He has also developed the Cockerell Academy for leaders to improve their company culture.

“Culture eats strategy for lunch. You get the culture right, your people will help you implement any strategy you come up with. You don’t get the culture right; you’re not gonna get anywhere because they won’t help you. They’ll quit,” he said.  

Many executives want to create executive brands as recognizable as Cockerell’s, who developed his reputation as an expert on organizational culture. We often hear about how executives should become thought leaders, but this goal isn’t achieved overnight. 

“Not everyone can be a thought leader; only so many personalities and ideas can truly break through the noise.

However, with the right tactics, dedication, patience, and education, you may be able to successfully influence others in your field and become a reliable source of insight and information,” said Skye Schooley, a writer for Business News Daily.

So, how can you become a thought leader?


💡 Identify a consistent and unique value proposition.

Thought leadership can sometimes feel like an echo chamber: too many voices saying the same thing. 

That’s why you want to figure out a narrow, specific area where you can provide expertise. To choose a focus, identify what thought leaders already discuss before figuring out what you’re most passionate about and knowledgeable about.  

You only need one to two topics that your target audience cares about. Cockerell, for instance, focuses on company culture and the ups and downs of a career. 

“[Your] key messages should always be clear and consistent with supporting talking points or soundbites to match.

Whether it’s a keynote address, an op-ed, or a media interview, any public remarks from [executives] on the topic should reflect the central message of their platform, even as the delivery or examples may be tailored to the audience or venue,” said the Merritt Group.


💡 Decide which type of thought leader you want to be.

As you’re thinking about your unique expertise, it can be helpful to consider the type of thought leader you want to become.

Typically, leaders conceive of themselves as one of four types (though you can choose more than one): 

  • Visionaries are industry-focused and usually share their commentary on trends and make predictions in specific areas. 
  • Guides are product-focused and offer guidance and ideas about company solutions. They might also be called “passionate expert[s],” says Alexandra Rynne, a content strategist for LinkedIn Ads.
  • Mentors are people-focused experts who offer career, talent, and personal growth advice. Like Cockerell, they often use their own stories or their coworkers’ stories to prove their points. 
  • Evangelists are brand-focused advocates who talk about their organization’s or industry’s innovations, philanthropy, and company culture. 

“Executives should gravitate toward whichever of these categories feels most natural and comfortable, and it might be more than one,” advises Rynne.


💡 Be reliable and persistent.

One of the reasons executives don’t become thought leaders is that they lack consistency.

They may start out with too-ambitious expectations that become impossible to maintain. Or they might get discouraged if they don’t find an audience right away. 

But the only way you’ll find a following is if you post regularly. SEO Specialist Kyle Wycoff suggests creating content management where you’re posting at least weekly. 

He also says to make sure your posts aren’t just sales pitches. Thought leaders aren’t focused on making sales, at least not right away, but rather, they care about building trust and authority. 

But the most important aspect of this part of your executive branding strategy is consistency. If you post on most Mondays but then miss a week without explanation, your audience will doubt your reliability. 

“Be patient when creating content and understand that no empire was built in a day.

Optimize your content with best practices from Google and let your audience absorb and reflect on your thought leadership before trying to push for sales,” said Wycoff.


Developing Your Executive Brand as a Thought Leader


Thought leaders become go-to authorities on specific, consistent topics.

No matter if you position yourself as a visionary, evangelist, guide, or mentor, it’s important to be reliable and persistent in your content generation. Post regularly to your platforms of choice, engage with your audience’s comments, and share other thought leaders’ ideas to develop your brand. 

If you’d like more instruction on becoming a thought leader, consider enrolling in Ivy Exec’s class “Build and Leverage Your Thought Leadership Strategy.” Taught by Peter Winick, the founder, and CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage, you’ll learn strategies for building your personal brand.