You can't lead from behind.

- James Longstreet

I've worked with some amazing clients over the years. One of my favorites was a community-building organization in Seattle.

This organization had a wonderful mission, a long history of success, and a charismatic director who could sell you on just about anything. I thought it was odd they were a client, since it seemed they had everything well in hand.

Except they didn't know how to tell their own story.

This organization's goal was to be a thought leader in the field of community organization. They were good at their jobs and passionate about their work; but they also recognized that you can be the best at something without leading others.

Several meetings over a handful of weeks helped us narrow down their mission and narrative. We put together a solid marketing plan comprised of both high-level strategy and immediately actionable tactical recommendations.

One of the most powerful recommendations we made was to form a speaking bureau for their charismatic founder.

The Functional Word

A thought leader has to do more than think about problems. Being the best isn't good enough, you have to be visible and engaged within the community, otherwise you're just a thinker and not a leader.

A thought leader is both at the top of their game and influential in the game itself.

I speak at conferences because I want to be more than just a user of technology, I want to help drive the conversation about that technology.

I write about my technology because I want to be more than just a user of technology, I want to influence the future of that technology.

Thought leadership - for an individual or an organization - is not a passive pursuit. It's something that needs to form an active part of your marketing strategy. From the press releases you publish to the conferences you sponsor to the way your employees engage the larger community, the narrative you tell as an organization determines how much you're leading the discussion.

If you're good at what you do, ask yourself how engaged you are with others who do the same thing. Are you an active part of the conversation? Are you positioned as a leader amongst the larger discussion?

Or are you following and falling behind someone else?