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Our recent report, Missing the point, found surprising evidence about CxOs in relation to thought leadership. It found them to be harder-working, more patient, and easier to please than their subordinates, challenging the notion that they’re all tearing around with their hair on fire, with about three nanoseconds to read whatever you’d like to put in front of them.
The more you think about it, the more that stands to reason: CxOs tend to be older than their subordinates and are more likely to have grown up at a time when you had to go looking for content rather than waiting for it to come and find you. What’s more, because they’re usually on their own at the top of either their organisation or their function, they’re more likely to look outside of their organisation for reassurance, support, and ideas. They’re a bit lonely. A CEO we spoke to some time ago put it beautifully: “People lower down in the organisation don’t like the fact that I use consultants, but who else do they expect me to talk to?” Asked how often they read a piece of thought leadership all the way through to the end, 40% of non-CxOs said they did so “always or almost always.” The proportion of CxOs saying the same thing was 69%. Leaders really are readers.
All of which makes them irresistible as targets for thought leadership. That would be fine if they were the ones actually buying consulting services, but our research has consistently shown that they’re not: It’s actually the people who report into them who buy the most, and they’re much, much more demanding. Thought leadership needs to find them, it needs to grab them, it needs to demand no more of their time than is absolutely necessary, and it needs to be nailed-on relevant to the challenges they’re facing. Frankly, they’re complete pains in the backside, but you ignore them at your peril—and right now far too much thought leadership does. It might be good enough for a CxO, but that’s not good enough anymore.