Who’s a Real Thought Leader?

Not everyone can be a thought leader

Every one of us has our own unique expertise in certain areas like business, hobbies or personal pursuits. That expertise doesn’t necessarily equate to leadership. In fact, many individual talents remain hidden from view, practiced in solitude or among a small group of others with shared interests.

In spite of the hype and endless exhortations to “establish thought leadership,” this is an elusive goal. There are only a few true thought leaders, and becoming one requires more than a wish and a handful of ideas.

A real thought leader is the person that individuals in an industry or group turn to for stimulating revelations and compelling concepts. Their minds tend to be several steps ahead of the rest of us, challenging followers to keep pace.

You won’t find thought leaders rehashing old ideas, unless they are both fundamental and easily overlooked. Sometimes it takes a thought leaders to state the obvious in a fresh way, so we can gain a new perspective on essentials we take for granted.

More often, a thought leader is someone who tests boundaries, making us question our own assumptions. They make us think, hard. That’s why they’re called a thought leader – they lead the collective thinking on a given topic, serving as the vanguard.

What does that mean for your company? Many companies have set the goal of achieving thought leadership for one or more key executives as part of their marketing strategy. Having a real thought leader on staff provides added visibility and enhanced repute for an organization, so it’s not surprising to see this as an aim for growing businesses.

If you want to be a thought leader, you must be willing and able to step out, forging ahead when followers are reluctant to keep pace. Staying in the safe zone is not an option. If that’s where you’re comfortable, you’re better off blending in. (The phrase “go big or go home” comes to mind.)

Becoming a thought leader requires you to be confident in your ideas, vocal in expressing them, and highly visible in your space. Most important of all, remember that you cannot anoint yourself  a thought leader.

Like beauty, thought leadership is an external affair. It is known in the minds of those who see it and absent in the eyes of those who don’t. “Thought leader” is an honor bestowed upon someone by others who have observed how that person generates and expresses concepts that matter. They’ve seen them stirring the pot, creating conversations that further ideas and forge new conventions.

Are you a thought leader?

Do your peers routinely seek you out to solicit your advice and ideas? Are you often asked to share your thinking with industry gatherings, lead change initiatives or spearhead a task force? Do you write articles, books and blogs that people are eager to share?

If you answered yes to these questions, you just might be a thought leader…or at least well on your way.

Some thought leaders to think about:

  • Nicolaus Copernicus – Challenged conventional wisdom about the order of the universe.
  • Billy Beane – “Moneyball” changed the way teams  assess the potential of players.
  • Niccolo Machiavelli – (re)Wrote the rules of politics and power.
  • Henry Ford – His assembly line showed us production doesn’t have to be piecemeal.
  • Charles Darwin – Introduced us to natural selection (survival of the fittest).
  • Christo (Christo Vladimirov Javacheff) – Questioned the entire concept of art.
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