A ‘WHY’​ without the ‘WHO’​ is just a hollow phrase

In today’s purpose-driven world we are all concerned about the WHY. And that is a good thing. Every company and person should make its own unique impact to the world. In fact, it is demanded. Being purpose-driven as a company is a survival-kit in an era where the Awakening Consumer is more in control than ever before and is forcing companies to fulfill the demanding needs of ultra-conscious people all around the world. And they don’t give companies that much time.


That’s precisely why today’s world of WHY needs a strong WHO. Leaders (entrepreneurs, C-suite, business leaders, product specialists, etcetera) who inspire and move people around the company’s purpose (the WHY). In- and externally. And a company culture that lives and breathes the purpose. Without a powerful messenger, the WHY is just a hollow phrase, window dressing if you want, and will have no impact at all.

So, in the 20’s, the WHY-HOW-WHAT needs an upgrade to the WHY-WHO-HOW-WHAT. This piece is about the leadership aspect of the WHO.

Thought leaders inspire and move

But what type of leadership is needed? Leaders and leadership are big words, so let’s be more specific. What is needed is TRUE Thought Leadership. TRUE in capitals, because we are talking about next level thought leadership. This is not about posting two articles on your website or sending out a monthly tweet. We are talking about the power to inspire and engage people in- and outside the company. Any stakeholder. Thought leadership is about visionary leadership that inspires and moves people in an authentic way. Thought leaders make impact. Think of Richard Branson or Oprah Winfrey. Or Greta Thunberg. Thought leaders are more important than ever and this is just the beginning.

Seven key characteristics

In my view, impactful thought leaders have 7 key characteristics. They:

- Are strong LEADERS (they possess fundamental leadership skills)

- Are VISIONARY: they embody the company’s purpose

- They are an industry EXPERT

- COMMUNICATE the Why in a compelling way, clearly and consistently

- MOVE people: they demonstrate inspiring leadership that make people act


- ENGAGE both within their organization and within and beyond their industry

Leadership, Positioning and Communications

Yes, nobody said it’s easy to be a true thought leader. That’s why there are not that many. But, there is also good news: many of the skills mentioned can be learnt or at least developed. The above 7 elements can be divided into three pillars:

1. Leadership skills

2. Leadership positioning

3. Communications

Ad 1. Be a powerful leader.

Fundamental leadership skills are crucial. Thought leadership skills are an add-on. So, if you don’t possess the skills strong leaders have, you’ll never be an impactful thought leader. So, work on your fundament. Develop the right leadership mindset. Define ambitious, but realistic goals. Dare to be bold. Take massive action. Etcetera. This CAN be trained (yes, some are born leaders, but that doesn’t mean others can’t become one).

Ad 2. Define your positioning.

The element of leadership positioning is about the how, what and when. How you will translate your vision and ideas to your ecosystem? Define who your key stakeholders are. Choose the media and channels you’ll communicate through. Think about the themes you will communicate about. What geographies are important? Are there other thought leaders in your space you have to take into account? And so on.

Ad 3. Be authentic and bold and … repeat.

It goes without saying that the way you communicate is a key pillar of impactful thought leadership. If you’re not able to communicate clearly, you will never get your message across. On the other hand, if you are able to formulate clear and understandable messages and communicate them in an authentic, appealing and consistent way, you are half-way there. Consistency is key. Look at some videos of Steve Jobs and you know exactly what I mean.

The power of repetition

To the point of consistency: leaders often tell me they get bored of telling the same story to audiences over and over again. I then tell them that that is a good sign, because (1) apparently, they have been telling the story a lot and (2) once they start to get bored, the outside world is only just starting to remember the message. Just like I continue to say this to the leaders I’m advising and hoping they remember my consult. The power of repetition is a life principle to make an impact. Discipline transforms people.

The power is in the authenticity and relevance of your purpose and story. If it’s relevant to your stakeholders and people feel you mean it, there is a great basis to build trust and loyalty. But only if you follow the principles above. Because don’t forget: the Awakening Consumer is demanding, ruthless and highly impatient. But true thought leaders love a challenge!

More at www.diederikheinink.com

Founder East | Business Strategist | Leadership Coach | Author ‘The Era of the Who’ — Leadership in a revolutionary era | Speaker | Columnist Business Insider.