Thought Leadership is an important part of developing one’s personal brand, of contributing to the marketing and business development activities and successes of a firm, and to contributing to building the capital fabric of a firm. As professionals, it is ideally something all of us would aspire to do and be, a thought leader in our chosen area of practice or industry sector. Few of us achieve this.

Grant Butler has recently published his book Think Write Grow (Wiley 2012) which provides an excellent overview and many practical tips on developing and marketing written thought leadership material.  He principally focuses on written material, but the principles outlined apply equally to other ways of developing and supporting thought leadership. This short book will not only prove helpful to produce thought leadership material but is full of ideas and tips about writing any material or piece.

The author agreed to answer some questions which I hope will be helpful to you as law firm leaders and managers when contemplating how to develop your own firm’s thought leadership assets.  As it is quite a long piece and I would like you to get the benefit of all his responses, I will spread it over three posts – Part One, Two & Three. This is the first.

There are some very valuable explanations, ideas and practical steps set out in this readable work on thought leadership. It should be in every professional service firm library and be read by all those wanting to grow their firm's thought leadership assets.

SL: Congratulations on the publication of Think Write Grow (TWG) – I know it is in your book but for the benefit of my readers how would you define thought leadership and what does it comprise?

GB: Thought leadership is certainly described in lots of different ways. In the book, I try to keep it simple by saying that it’s about how experts share their knowledge and come up with new ideas to help people solve problems or uncover opportunities. It’s also important to pull the two words apart  – ‘thought’ and ‘leader’. The first part involves quality thinking, research and innovation about a topic. The second part involves actively sharing that knowledge with others through things like newsletter articles, blogs, books and speeches. That’s the point at which an expert moves from knowing their stuff to being a thought leader.

SL: TWG achieves a number of things – it  explains thought leadership and provides tips and practical ideas as well as examples illustrating these – in this way it provides a good framework for someone wishing to develop thought leadership writing. Much like a written strategy however, the written document, clarity and framework is not enough. It is all about implementation.  What would your message be to leaders and senior executives of professional service firms and law firms to make thought leadership happen in practice?

GB: A lot of firms like the idea of producing thought leadership material. They understand that it’s important to demonstrate their expertise, show that they have market-leading ideas and to generally maintain strong communication with clients. But yes, actually finishing material – or getting it done in a timely way – is often overtaken by the need to complete day-to-day work. To overcome that, I’d suggest a few things.

  • First, firms should set some clear and specific objectives at the start of each year or more frequently, such as saying they want to produce 12 client newsletters of four to six pages in length, deliver six client seminars and have a professional write one book. Those goals should tie into the firm’s overall marketing and client communications strategy, and there should be a single person or team that is accountable for tracking progress across the firm.
  • The other key step that the firm leadership can take is to recognize the time and resources professionals need to produce quality thought leadership material and to make sure they get plenty of both. A big mistake firms make is that they don’t carve out enough time for the research and production that’s required. Instead they expect their teams to fit it in early, late or at weekends. The ideal is that firms decide how much material they want to produce, calculate the time that will be required and work out which professionals can contribute, then value that time in their systems the same as they would billable client work.
  • Firms can also set aside a specific quiet area where professionals can research and write without interruptions. It really does take time and space to produce quality thought leadership, and professionals need to feel that the work will be valued and recognized. Firms should also have a clear idea of how much material they want to produce, how much they will invest and what benefits they expect to gain from that investment.

SL: A strong proposition that comes through in TWG is that anyone can potentially become a thought leader; but they should follow some of the suggested steps and be disciplined about following through. Have you come across some unlikely success stories in your research?

GB: Absolutely. Obviously we can’t all be an Albert Einstein, but almost everyone has strong ideas about their areas of specialty that could be helpful to others.

  • One unlikely success story I touch on in the book is Anthony Robbins. He’s not necessarily the world’s most highly credentialled psychologist, but he’s got a range of strong ideas, extraordinary communication skills and boundless energy.
  • Another person I focus on is Andrew Lumsden, a corporate law partner with Corrs Chambers Westgarth in Sydney. He’s not really an unlikely success story, but he is surprising in that he has worked to become an expert in law and behavioural economics. This is a field that he’s always been passionate about and he quietly collects background material then occasionally publishes thought leadership articles in major newspapers, for instance. This has gradually seen him develop a profile in this wider area and become a respected voice on issues such as financial regulation in Australia.

Part Two and Three will be published over the next few weeks.

[Grant Butler can be contacted via]