James DeKoven
Writer & Content Strategist

Blog of marketing and branding ideas

Opinions, ideas and ramblings

Leaders Have Feelings, Too

As far as I know, archeologists have yet to find a stone tablet inscribed with the words, “Thou shall write lifeless thought leadership pieces.”

But some executives seem to subscribe to that sort of dogma. While their content may contain sound intellectual opinions, they’re forgetting to inject emotion.

Emotion matters because the writer’s job is to touch the heart and soul, even in a business context. More so with the rise of social media, where executives – in order to boost their individual profiles, and subsequently those of the companies they lead – now have to publish on a regular basis and grow a following.

We’ve all come to know this as “building a personal brand.” Frankly, I’ve never bought into that concept. No, you want to create connections with human beings. That’s where emotion comes in.

In my experience as an executive consultant and ghostwriter, it’s common for my clients (especially those in technology) to feel that everything should be high-level. Speak about the Big Idea with the tone of an authority and visionary. Any hint of entertainment value or personality erodes credibility.

Emotion and creativity, they believe, belong exclusively in the domain of marketing, where language can go off-leash and wander into the land of the fun and the zany.

There’s no evidence to justify that distinction. Besides, our reading habits tell us all we need to know. Consider some of the non-fiction writers you enjoy. Consciously or not, I bet you appreciate their creativity, their willingness to be bold, to be vulnerable, to bethemselves. They inject personality and style into serious topics, providing knowledge and delight at the same time.

You don’t suddenly switch off the requirement for connection when the author happens to be a CEO (By the way, this is why most of us don’t have academic journals on our summer reading lists. They’re full of valuable ideas but plain boring to read.)

Sometimes my executive clients ask me to hand over the keys and try writing for themselves. My pointers for turning thought leadership into engaging content:

- You need a "professional" tone to be taken seriously, but you can't sacrifice the human factor that creates connections.

- Show confidence and conviction in your opinions. Don’t stand apart from them by making general observations. Nothing creates an airtight belief like using “I”, “I’m”, and “My”.

- Be yourself. Don’t write how you think you’re supposed to write. Let your personality shine through. For example, if you have a quirky sense of humor, weave that in where appropriate.

- Study the writers you like and hone in on what moves you about their style. Their way with words, how they organize their thoughts, the intriguing titles for their pieces. Emulate them and over time you’ll develop your personal style.

You can’t immediately expect to be Richard Branson or Sheryl Sandberg, famous people who attract readers by name recognition alone. You need every advantage you can get. Express yourself.