Print Friendly, PDF & Email


What’s with this thought leadership pandemic? The term’s getting tossed around today like a dollar store foam football. In my mind, this makes for a great analogy of its value.

I’m a thought reader. I’m a thought needer. Given my love for blogging (and obvious affection for opinionating), I think it’d be fair to say I’m even a thought feeder.

But I’m not a thought leader. Neither are you. Okay cool, we now know at least two of us here in cyberspace are not thought leaders.

Is there a formula for thought leadership?

No. Hell no.

Despite what you may have been told by the wanna-be thought leaders who so generously offer convenient instruction manuals for becoming a thought leader, no formula produces one.

Though there are a variety of ingredients thought leaders share, there’s no recipe. There’s no thought leadership department at Walmart and no webinar, conference, eBook, podcast, infographic, pin board, or blog with the magic power to convert you into a thought leader.

I hope I haven’t ruined your day. I don’t mean to be a downer dude. I think the world of thought leaders. I think you should definitely aspire to become an authority in your field. I also think you most definitely should share your ideas by publishing useful content online. It’s a powerful strategy for building your brand.

However, you need to be credible every step of the way. Wander into the land of self-proclaimed thought leadership and your credibility dies a sudden (and deserved) death. Thought leaders don’t call themselves thought leaders. They don’t think that way.

What else don’t thought leaders think?

Thank you for asking. I’ve created a list.

1.    Twitter is the road to Thought Leadership City.
Twitter is awesome. It’s my favorite platform for exchanging ideas, making new connections, and building relationships. I credit social media at large for profoundly changing our lives in so many ways. It has given experts of every type a means to amplify their messages and accelerate their teaching, so its implications for marketing are enormous.Perhaps it’s fair to say social media does pave the way for many new opportunities, but it doesn’t take you to a place called “Thought Leadership.” It gives you a great microphone, so it definitely can allow you to be heard by a bigger audience and potentially command even greater influence. But it doesn’t give you the revolutionary ideas that will anoint you a thought leader.

2.    Authoring a book makes thought leadership automatic.
It’s never been easy to write a book and it never will be. But it’s true; it has become immensely easier to publish a book—or anything. Hurdles that might have formerly blocked the path to publishing have been removed. So we have more books now. I’m not sure we have more great books though.Essentially, we’ve segued over to content marketing with this one. The content doesn’t have to be a book. However, just as social media itself doesn’t make you brilliant, a publication with your name on it doesn’t either.

3.    Calling myself a thought leader makes me a thought leader.
This is so untrue, I was compelled to write an article about it. Read “You Are So Not the Thought Leader You Think” published at ‘The Point.” I’d like to call myself a professional tennis player, but I’m a mediocre club-level player. Want lessons?

4.    All those convenient shortcuts to thought leadership are so useful.
I can’t imagine graduating from a course with a degree in thought leadership. I hope you can’t either. It strikes me as laughable that a seminar, eBook, video, or any teaching tool can transform you or anyone into a thought leader. An article titled, “Write a Thought-Leadership Corporate Blog in Just 5 Minutes a Week” inspired me to add this “shortcut” idea to my list (as well as add a few thoughts to the article’s commentary stream).

5.    Evangelism makes me a thought leader.
Don’t let this observation of mine discourage you. If you have strong convictions about a topic and believe your word will help others, by all means, be an evangelist. I’m doing my part by speaking on and writing about content marketing here, there and everywhere. It doesn’t make me a thought leader though. It makes me an evangelist.

6.    Joining a thought leadership group makes me a thought leader.
Nice try. I’m sure you’ll find thought leader groups on LinkedIn and no doubt there are MeetUps and clubs featuring “Thought Leader” in their names. Chances are pretty good, getting involved in these will have you rubbing elbows with some strong thinkers and inspire some great ideas.I’ve been attending a MeetUp about business speaking (and joined some LinkedIn groups focusing on the topic). I find myself surrounded by experienced speakers, gathering helpful ideas for speaking, and I now take advantage of opportunities to speak. So I’m a speaker now. However, joining these groups didn’t make me a speaker. I made myself one.

7.    Thinking makes me a thought leader.
This one is so obvious we probably shouldn’t give it another thought. Instead, I’ll expand the statement by adding:You also shouldn’t think being a leader makes you a thought leader.Everyone thinks and there’s no shortage of leaders.I do a fair share of leading. I’m the leader on many marketing projects. I’ve been the leader, that is, manager, of an old guys’ softball team for decades. I get to decide who’s on the team, what positions they play, and what order the players bat in. I don’t have thoughts that will change the direction of the sacred sport.

Thank goodness for thought leaders.

See, I value the thought leaders of the world as much as you or anybody. No, you won’t win my respect by telling me you are one. No, you can’t count on tools and techniques to transform you into one. Thinking and talking about it means diddly. And studying thought leadership or hobnobbing with thought leaders may be meaningful, but it’s not magical.

Thought leadership just isn’t a moniker you toss on your resume.

Thought leaders are the men and women with ideas with the power to change the world. Their vision causes us to recalibrate ours. Their conviction stomps on the status quo and grinds it into the ground. Their passion for progress renders fear completely useless. They don’t subscribe to formulas nor do they attempt to create them.

Steve Jobs was a thought leader. You might say he was an arrogant one. He offended people left and right and left a trail of suck-ups and pretenders in his wake. You couldn’t even offend him back. Steve was ruthless. He was relentless. And he revolutionized this world in meaningful ways.

However opinionated this article might be, my observations in the paragraph above are not opinions. They are incontrovertible facts. What you are doing right now is the result of the work of a thought leader in a black mock-tee who made a big badass dent in the world by giving us tools to help us be creative.

He’d infuriate his teammates. If you didn’t see things his way, he’d flip you two middle fingers. If you put Steve Jobs in thought leadership school, he’d fail every course. Thought leaders create their own course.

That’s what I think about thought leadership. What do you think?