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What I Learned About Thought Leadership From a Volcano

Bill Fox is leading a conversation to catalyze people and organizations to be more conscious, collaborative, and co-creative. He collaborates with industry experts on the best strategies to improve organizations at Taking a higher perspective on this work has led to the creation of Higher Perspectives to Transform You and Your Workplace at Bill’s work is supported by the visionary management team at where he can speak his truth.

Here he shares his perspective on Tweet #13 in our award-winning book, #Thought Leadership Tweet: 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign:

Thought leadership is the willingness to go one way when most people are going the other. Does your culture support that?

Over to Bill:

Bill Fox at Maui Aviators

Bill Fox at Maui Aviators

Days before I left for the island of Maui this past summer, Dr. Liz Alexander asked if I would consider writing a guest post about thought leadership. Since her writing and thought leadership have greatly impacted me, I was delighted and honored by the invitation. Yet I never could have imagined how this business trip would impact what I’d write.

I was on this trip with fellow consultant and private pilot Hillel Glazer. When we travel together, Hillel and I look for opportunities to explore the area by air. On this trip, we decided to fly from Maui to the island of Hawaii to overfly a volcano.

I’ve since realized that volcanoes and thought leaders have a lot in common.

Understanding thought leadership

Unfortunately, I find that what’s passed off as thought leadership is, more often than not, a slight variation on what everyone else is saying. Most “thought leaders” are simply piling on to the favorite flavor of the month.

Why is this so?

Is this because we don’t agree on what thought leadership truly is? Or is something deeper going on?

I believe many leaders do not understand true thought leadership. And I believe a deeper reason exists for this reality. That’s why I selected Tweet #13 from the book, #THOUGHT LEADERSHIP Tweet, to address in this post:

Thought leadership is the willingness to go one way when most people are going the other. Does your culture support that?

I believe many “leaders” aren’t willing to go the other way because their culture doesn’t support speaking their truth. They’re unwilling to speak their truth because they are afraid of the consequences. 

True thought leadership is a lot like a volcano.

How many volcanoes have you seen? A volcano is a distinctive feature that stands out clearly from the surrounding landscape. There’s no mistaking a volcano for something else.


Most of what I see being passed off as thought leadership doesn’t stand out like a volcano at all. It barely makes a ripple in the deep abyss of information that’s available to us.

Is what you’re calling thought leadership distinctive? Is it easily distinguishable from everything else?

A volcano creates something visibly new and changes the landscape.

When a volcano erupts, a new creation is brought forth. Lava flows. It flows seemingly naturally and effortlessly. In the case of our trip, we could visibly see new land springing forth in paradise.

When people can freely express their truth, it flows naturally and effortlessly. And it has enormous power to create something new.

Is your thought leadership creating something fresh and new? Will it change the landscape of your organization or the world? Or is it more of the same?

A volcano doesn’t worry about what others think.   

Let’s face the facts: Volcanos erupt, and there’s not much we can do about it. A volcano doesn’t care what others think. Nothing stands in its way for very long.


True thought leadership must be willing to be expressed even when important values, practices, beliefs, etc., might be challenged.

Do you say what you believe, even if it calls into question important values, principles or beliefs? Or do you hold back because of what others might think?

A volcano is supported by a powerful but unseen structure.

People commonly view a volcano as a tapering mountain, spewing lava and poisonous gases from a crater that’s bubbling with molten lava. But underneath and unseen is a much more complex and powerful structure. A structure exists that forms and directs hot molten lava under enormous pressure towards the surface.

Your culture is a powerful but unseen structure too—an unseen but very powerful structure of beliefs, convictions and traditions that forms the foundation of your organization.

Are you recognizing the powerful role of culture in your organization? Are you nurturing and shaping the culture to support your organization’s mission?

Passion and purpose fuel your culture just like lava and powerful forces fuel a volcano.

Hawaiian mythology tells of Pele, the goddess of fire, lightning, wind, and volcanoes. Pele is known for her creative power, passion, purpose and profound love.

Does your culture reward creative power, passion, purpose and profound love? Does your culture allow—or, better yet, encourage—people to express these same qualities? Does your culture allow your people to speak their own truth?

A culture that allows people to speak their truth enables more than just true thought leadership. A culture where everyone can speak their truth allows collaboration and co-creation to flourish at all levels. This creates an atmosphere and environment where everyone can engage more fully to contribute their own unique passion, creativity and intellect. Isn’t this what we ALL want anyway?

How about you? Are you able to speak your truth? Do you fear speaking your truth? If so, what would it take to change that? And what sort of true thought leadership would flow through you if you did speak your truth?

I’m looking forward to hearing anything that comes up for you after reading this post.

Author’s Comments:

This improbable flight to a volcano was made possible by amazing friends and co-creators. I’m so grateful for their contributions. First, Dr. Liz Alexander planted the seed that inspired me to share my thinking about thought leadership and catalyzed an adventure. On the way to Maui, Sue Elliott, Editor-in-Chief of Law of Attraction Magazine, coached me in her Magical Transformation Intensive the day before the flight. She also contributed her superb editing skills to this post. Then fellow consultant Hillel Glazer, CEO of Entinex, Inc., flew us safely through several challenging weather systems and cloud formations on the way to the volcano. Along the way we faced several moments of truth. Those moments of truth and related discussions informed this post. Next, my web strategy and content advisor Crystal Street, Visual Storyteller, reminded me (gently) how to write with impact. And finally, Paul McMahon, Principal at PEM Systems, and Jeff Helman, Transformational Linchpin at, both encouraged me to deepen the conversation. How does it get any better than this?

About Dr. Liz Alexander

There are 20 comments

  • Maralyn Cale

    Wow, Bill, I love this metaphor! The idea of thought leadership being like a volcano feels deeply resonant for me, and I believe extends way beyond business culture.

    Each one of us has a unique form and voice, and as we express these in our world we create change in the world around us.

    The passion and purpose that fuels me is nurturing rich relationships and certainly all our relationships – even the ones we have with ourselves – are supported (or not) by powerful (and often unrecognized) structures.

    And for sure, silencing our voice, or being unwilling to speak our deep desires, or not having the skills to communicate these in a generative way – any of these are powerful impediments to co-creating rich relationships with ourselves, others and life.

    Thanks for triggering these Juicy and delicious ideas Bill!

  • Dr. Liz Alexander

    Glad you enjoyed the post, Maralyn. One of the points that Bill’s analogy raised for me concerns my experience flying to/from the UK at the time that the volcano with the unpronounceable name (Eyjafjallajokull) was causing havoc with flights across Europe back in early 2010.

    In our view, widely shared, thought leadership distinguishes itself from basic “content marketing” in being risky, provocative, and significantly “shaking things up.” It’s like the authors of The Challenger Sale say: If what you are proposing is met with: “Yeah, I was thinking something along those lines,” or “That’s absolutely what keeps us awake at night” then it isn’t thought thought leadership!

    That Icelandic volcano brought attention to itself through disruption — to thousands of people’s already established travel plans. Thought leaders do similarly…so anyone who wants just to get from A to B in the same way they always have, is going to be seriously challenged.

    “Juicy and delicious ideas” indeed!

  • Bill Fox

    Dear Maralyn and Liz, thank you for sharing the amazing insights you received!

    Writing this post has been a fascinating experience. The flight left me with a knowing to focus on truth and to fearlessly speak out about it. It started there and continues to expand in many unexpected and powerful ways.

    I love what’s coming up for both of you, and I thank you for sharing! Several others have shared many fascinating insights with me privately. I’m encouraging them to share their thoughts or to allow me to post them here.

    This past week I was at a conference in Pittsburgh, PA. One of the experts speaking, Paul McMahon, shared insights he received from the post and how it helped him answer a question he’s been asked many times. He’s given me permission to share the audio here:

    What else is possible?

  • Josie Wood

    I find myself resonating with the power and passion that comes through in your writing here Bill. It reminds me of the quote ‘all the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come’. I look forward to reading more of your leading edge thoughts to inspire us to live with that power and passion. with love, Josie

    • Bill Fox

      Josie, thank you so much for the appreciation and very moving comment. I love your reference to the quote: “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as as idea whose time has come.” It really resonates for me too and captures what was in my heart when I wrote this post.

      I thank you for inspiring me and for the love that was attached for all to receive.

      With love,

  • Liz Alexander

    I love that quote too, Josie: “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

    What I find sad, in the realm of “thought leadership” are the number of commentators who do not have a powerful idea…but who merely regurgitate (they call it content creation these days :-)) others’ thinking and perspectives.

    That’s why true thought leaders are so rare and why it’s such a pleasure to read something as fresh and insightful and thought-provoking as Bill has done for us here.

    Thanks so much for commenting 🙂

  • Carolina Iglesias

    Since I’m out of the corporate world and its terminology (and I believe it’s great that companies invest in events to get inspiration from people like Bill Fox), it just occurred to me that rather than “thought leaders” we are all “thought triggers,” because we trigger people to think for themselves and look for *their* truth rather than follow others. I’d love to see a volcano from above…!

    • Dr. Liz Alexander

      Thanks for your perspective, Carolina. On the topic of volcanoes, I remember being in Guatemala and getting up at the crack of dawn to join a party that was going to be trekking up one of that country’s many volcanoes. Talk about taking one step forward and two steps back! The shingle (or whatever it was) kept moving beneath my feet and after losing what I swear was a gallon of perspiration, determined that I wasn’t that anxious to peer over the rim of a volcano!

      I’m thinking of this now in relation to thought leadership. I love the synonym of “trigger” because of course that’s what true thought leaders in the B2B space do: they trigger new thinking and behaviors for their clients who — being presented with a new way of thinking about their business — will say: “Heck, I never thought about it that way before.”

      The danger is in assuming that everyone can and does this. Unfortunately, as we see all too often, companies (and the bigger they are, the worse it often is, outside of “outliers” such as Google, Apple and other high tech mavericks) who have become so enmeshed in the forest they really can’t see opportunities that stand out for those of us on the outside looking in. They’re like I was on the side of that volcano — continually “treading water” as it were…making the action of walking but getting nowhere fast.

      So, yes, true thought leaders are “thought triggers” in acting as catalysts for their clients to find and act on their own truth, rather than follow the prescribed advice of consultants, for example. But I still see this ability as rarer than might be suggested by all the self-proclaimed “thought leaders” out there.

    • Bill Fox

      Carolina, what an awesome idea to think of ourselves as “thought triggers!” It’s very fascinating to me because this is exactly what “triggered” the writing of this post. Dr. Liz and Craig’s book triggered me to think differently, then their request triggered me to think differently about my trip to Maui, and so on! Such a powerful idea!

      I also love the “trigger” that you planted with me that you’d love to see a volcano from above! Get ready, the seed has been planted for another adventure! 🙂

      And so readers know, we know each other and have worked together. You are a gifted writer, so I can’t wait to read what you write about after flying over a volcano!

      I also hope this post and comment will trigger more people to read Dr. Liz and Craig’s book. It’s truly a treasure trove of thoughts as powerful as any volcano that will trigger people to express themselves more fully as who they truly are.

      With love,

  • Maralyn Cale

    Carolina, I love the notion of being a ‘thought triggerer’!

    What feels really true about that for me is that it allows for the notion of influencing those who are open and ready to engage and move. There’s no connotation of hard slogging, or the sense of being overly responsible for ‘making sure others get it’ that I lived with for many years and was both exhausting, and not nearly as effective as I’d have liked!

    Thanks for offering this ‘trigger’ of a way to name what it is I’m committed to doing – following the call of my own life, sharing that perspective with those whose lives I touch, respecting the right of those who see differently to do so, and focusing my attention on being open to what else we can co-create that’s life giving with those who feel a resonance!

    This way disruption is a disruption in thought patterns, and an invitation to choose differently, without any need or sense of exerting power over. Those who respond then tend to be much more fully engaged as co-creators, rather than passive ‘thought followers’.

    Appreciating this space of exploration, Liz, Bill, et al

    • Craig Badings

      Likewise Maralyn, I too love Carolina’s concept of thought triggers. Liz and I have been speaking for some time about coming up with another term to describes schema cracking. Schema cracking is effectively what thought leadership does i.e. crack through our existing schema filters to make us view things differently or change our perceptions or minds about something. Thought triggers goes some way to that but it’s not quite there yet.
      Cheers Craig

    • Bill Fox

      Maralyn, thank you again for contributing more powerful thoughts to this conversation. I totally resonate with what you are bringing up here.

      It reminds me of what unfolded throughout this amazing journey. Thought triggers were shared that opened me up to new possibilities. I made new choices that resulted in a surprising adventure with a fascinating outcome that I never planned or saw coming. It all unfolded as an exciting adventure in ease. Well mostly ease, Hillel will tell you there was a tense moment or two when we entered the clouds. Hillel had just received his instrument rating. I had never flown with him before in instrument conditions. A tense moment, but it was a moment of truth that was a key trigger for writing this post.

      How does it get any better than this?

      With love,

  • Melany

    Bill your insights are valid, clear and insightful. Thanks for the new views of thought triggers…I have had fun with that notion. Wonder if it’s because it’s similar to living in the question?

    Resonate co-creating Maralyn? High energy work for sure, yet I’ve imaged it as
    following the light…to the brightest of we’s.

    If you could track your triggers through all the hearts who have heard you, would you change your message…Bill? Not a word. Thanks!

    Happiest of trails,

    • Bill Fox

      Malany, thank you so much for your kind comments and your amazing question! Wow! That is such a powerful and deep question.

      I will need to reflect deeply to find it. I can tell by your response that you already know. I thank you for your wisdom that will allow me to receive it.

      What else is possible?

      With love,

  • Hillel Glazer

    Working with Bill on this flight and reading an early draft of his thoughts, I recalled a similar experience Dr. Liz describes in her comments about the Eyjafjallajokull eruption in 2010. In fact, I was stuck in Ireland for an extra week (at my own expense — but not the worst place to be stuck) due to the volcano.

    Not since the breakout of US war in Iraq had I been such a news junkie — channel flipping in my hotel room for information while simultaneously monitoring several web sites.

    As the situation unfolded, it became clear that what was going on was a result of a lack of thought leadership made worse by poor planning, bad data, and misuse of the data at hand.

    That lead to a blog post of my own — while it was happening — in April 2010.

    Lack of (thought) leadership and lack of (good/correct) data leads to bad decisions.

    What’s also interesting are the comments. It appears people have a predisposition to resist authoritative assertions backed by data when what they’re hearing goes against what they want to be true… thought-leadership has its challenges.

  • Liz Alexander

    Thanks for joining the conversation, Hillel.

    Thought leadership does indeed have its challenges — not least achieving some degree of consensus on what it actually involves.

    After I had rebutted the views expressed in a Social Media Today blog post entitled “10 Tips On How To Exhibit Thought Leadership On Your Social Media Pages (, the author responded with:

    “We traditionally think of it (thought leadership) as a means of influencing decision making through content marketing.”

    The problem there is that content marketing often comes up against the very issue you raise, Hillel: “the predisposition to resist authoritative assertions…”

    That’s why, for us at Leading Thought, thought leadership is less about content and more about conversations. There is nothing more “persuasive” than a new thought that someone thinks they’ve come up with themselves! The role of the thought leader, then, is not to come armed with data that asserts a particular position with which the other side may not agree (be violently opposed to or even not care about). The role of true thought leaders is to pique interest around an idea/solution that lies just outside the periphery of the listener’s current way of thinking. Then to engage them in a dialogue in which both parties co-create a desired outcome.

    To use that tired buzz-word I guess you could describe this as “buy-in” : the most accomplished thought leaders are influential insomuch as they motivate others to take action that, by themselves, they would never have dreamed of taking…by convincing them to consider ideas thy would never have thought of by themselves.

  • Hillel Glazer

    And, what’s even more disturbing to me in their response is, were someone to describe crowd-control with a water cannon, it would sound remarkably similar to what they call “thought leadership”.

    It appears their idea of thought leadership isn’t the one where a person has an original thought that leads other people’s thinking, rather, it’s one of using media to establish a social norm (rightly or wrongly) that people in leadership roles then use to justify their own words and action.

    Basically Joseph Goebbels & Vladmir Lenin’s formula — which, by the way, were not original to them either.

  • Liz Alexander

    Sad but true, Hillel!

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