Making an Impact with Executive Thought Leadership: 3 Cornerstones

March 31, 2021

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People buy from organizations they trust. Few things are more instrumental in securing brand trust than seeing visible, vocal, and credible company leadership in action. That’s why more and more marketers are placing a heightened emphasis on executive thought leadership.

Your brand’s values, culture, and purpose come through much more effectively when the source is a human being. CEOs and other company leaders can bring these qualities to life with authenticity and added impact, in large part because they directly shape and influence the corporate vision. It’s no surprise two out of three professionals say they’d be more likely to recommend a brand if they follow one of its executives on social media.

Creating high-quality thought leadership is not an autopilot endeavor. To help time-strapped execs and their teams understand where they should focus — and which approaches are most likely to break through — we’ve developed a practical blueprint. 

Our Quick Start Guide to Executive Thought Leadership is informed by research, data analysis, and conversations with leaders in the field. You can download it to get the full scoop, but here we’ll share some insights on what defines effective executive thought leadership, and three cornerstones to build upon.

What Does High-quality Executive Thought Leadership Look Like?

It’s not about manufacturing a persona or presenting business jargon through a different outlet. Audiences want to understand what leaders of this company are really like as people.

As John Thiel, former Vice Chairman for Merrill Lynch, told us: “What surprised me the most [about publishing on LinkedIn] is that me being me is more popular than me being the head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.”

In the guide, we share four thought leadership categories that individual voices tend to fall under, each offering an opportunity for executives to convey more to the world about who they are:

  • Industry Focused (Visionary): Trends, predictions, commentary, and opinions relating to your specific area of business. 
  • Brand Focused (Evangelist): Highlighting company culture, CSR, innovations, and philanthropic initiatives from the perspective of an organizational leader.
  • Product Focused (Guide): Expert guidance and insight around the company’s solutions, channeled through a passionate expert.
  • People Focused (Mentor): Career tips, talent advice, and personal growth content, imbued with the credibility of someone who knows what it takes to advance.

Executives should gravitate toward whichever of these categories feels most natural and comfortable, and it might be more than one. The Quick Start Guide features real-life examples of all four, as well as specific research-backed breakdowns of the traits that decision makers seek out in thought leadership content.

The Three Ps of Powerful Thought Leadership From the C-Suite

When it comes to activating executive thought leadership on LinkedIn, there are three foundational cornerstones. We explore each in more depth in the guide, but here’s an overview of what we can consider the “three Ps”: Profile, Publishing, and Participation.


When curious professionals want to learn about an influential figure in their industry, the LinkedIn profile is often one of the first stops. This is an opportunity to carefully customize the way you project yourself to the business community at large. One’s summary, experience and interests, and featured content can all tell the world different things about the person behind the title.


Creating original content is how thought leaders drive engagement and grow their audiences. LinkedIn offers a variety of different ways to publish anything from quick takes to in-depth thoughts to conversation-starters and beyond. Options include short-form text posts, documents, videos, stories, polls, articles, and more.


We also refer to this as “Digital Citizenship.” It’s all about being community-driven and embracing the social aspect of social media. Executives can tap into conversations playing out in their space by following relevant hashtags, engaging in comment dialogues, and curating industry content with their added point of view.

A New Era of Leadership

Building up an influential, in-demand platform on social media doesn’t happen overnight. In the Executive Thought Leadership: Quick Start Guide you’ll find a crawl-walk-run progression, offering direction for execs at any stage of thought leadership maturity.

Download the guide today and join the new era of leadership.