I don’t like the term “thought-leader”. For similar reasons I don’t like the terms “branding” and “personal branding”. All three phrases have been frequently co-opted by the self-absorbed and/or the manipulative.
Alas, “thought-leader” is probably the best term – but I will give it my own definition:
A thought-leader is someone who consistently expresses and monetizes original ideas.
Many people with the label of thought-leader are often just well-marketed karaoke singers or cover bands for other people’s ideas and intellectual property.
If you want to be known as a legit thought-leader read on …
True thought-leadership is a kind of art. What music is to a musician. Or painting is to a visual artist. As such, it has all the rules of successful art enterprises – of which I have codified three rules:
- Be Original – No cliches, industry jargon, cut-and-paste intellect. Have something to say … from the soul. Have a point of view. Make your own music. Sure, you can be inspired by other artists. Just don’t copy them.
- Be Real – Get used to practicing emotional nudity. This means you are going to offend some. Get your facts right and speak truth. Being real is creating anabolic agitation – being so thought-provoking and disruptive to thinking that you stay in a person’s head.
- Be Consistent – If you’re going to be a thought-leader, start sharing your thoughts. Write those posts. Give those presentations. Conduct those workshops. Get on those podcasts. Write that book. Get your ideas out there … every single day.
Being a true thought-leader requires you to be connected with your true self. Your beliefs and values. Your mission. Your talents. Without this connection, you become extrinsic in focus. And pretty soon you are playing the music that others want to hear rather than playing your own stuff. It takes a lot of inner work, reconciling of your past, acceptance of your gifts.
Being a thought-leader means ignoring the inner chatter that your ideas aren’t all that original. Or useful. It means ignoring the “nobody cares about what I have to say” nagging voice of doubt. If what you have to say is original and real and advances humanity in some way, it needs to be shared. As Wayne Dyer said “Don’t die with music still inside you.”
Being a thought-leader requires some sort of system for idea capture – then idea sharing. Use a journal or the Notes app on your phone to capture flashes, musings, ideas. Look for areas that are conventional thinking, taboo or dogma and examine them. Catalog and codify it all. Then decide what and how to share. I recommend finding the medium that gives you the most joy and organize around that. Then implement idea sharing into your calendar. Make it part of your business or career.
Just as everyone is an artist at something, I’m convinced everyone is a thought-leader about something. Most just don’t do the work. Either to dig in and find the originality. Or to express it consistently. Or both. Most are just fine covering “Sweet Caroline” at weddings. Honor those that inspired you, but play your own s**t.