Get Updates from us

On Twitter

Ask us anything!

8 Reasons You Really DON’T Want to Be a Thought Leader

Sign seen in India

Sign seen in India

You’ve probably seen or even read a few of them: Those topical New Year articles on why we break our “resolutions” and how to make this year different–like TED presenter Ruth Chang’s New York Times Sunday Review piece Resolving to Create a New You

I’ve always thought the main problem is conflicting goals. Like Anne Lamott’s students who “kind of want to write, but they really want to be published,” you’re never going to resolve to do anything if two or more desires (write a book; binge-watch an entire season of Game of Thrones) are competing for your time and attention.

Ruth Chang concludes her article with a call to action:

Let’s resolve to make ourselves into the selves that we can commit to being.

Which, in 2015, could be ensuring others regard you as a “thought leader.”

But will everyone who says this is what they want actually achieve such an accolade? (Of course you can always by-pass the effort simply by calling yourself a thought leader on the basis of believing you deserve to be–but you’re simply providing more ammunition for the “let’s get rid of the term thought leader” brigade!)

Here are eight ways we’ve found aspiring thought leaders sabotage themselves because other values, options or preferences conflict. Each is couched in one of the tweet-sized questions found in our book Thought Leadership Tweet: 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign:

Tweet No. 6: How brave are you prepared to be in terms of putting forward potentially controversial or challenging points of view?

Global thought leadership researchers, Source for Consulting, analyzed close to 10,000 pieces of so-called “thought leadership” content, and found a whopping 76 percent only raised some interesting points (40 percent) or mostly stated the obvious (36 percent). Only a meagre 2 percent presented a “revelatory and challenging viewpoint.” There are a lot of scaredy cats out there!

CONFLICT: Stay with the pack OR risk sticking your neck out.

Seen at the Lucky Brand Jeans storefront, The Domain, Austin, TX.

Seen at the Lucky Brand Jeans storefront, The Domain, Austin, TX.

Tweet No. 20: Is your thought leadership brand agnostic? Do you realize that if it is too brand or product centric, your thought leadership loses value?

CONFLICT: Choosing to only engage in activities with pre-conceived, sales-related outcomes OR engaging in innovative thinking and research to see where it takes you.

Tweet No. 37: To enhance your impact further, what third party endorser (such as a credible industry body or academic institution) might you partner with?

CONFLICT: Being distrustful of anyone outside your organization (maybe even inside) OR recognizing you don’t have all the answers and may not even be articulating the right questions because you’re too close to your own material.

Tweet No. 41: Do you clearly understand your clients’ issues and what keeps them awake at night? Will your thought leadership address some or all of them?

CONFLICT: Wanting to be seen as the smartest-person-in-the-room and THE expert OR choosing to have wider conversations and collaborations.

Tweet No. 76: An overcrowded thought leadership space is an oxymoron. Are you prepared to let go of a good idea if someone else got there first?

A friend recently sent me a tweet he’d seen (from someone who should know better!), suggesting that only 20 percent of thought leading content needed to be original–the rest could be “curated or aggregated.”Curating others’ content is a valuable precursor to thought leadership (as we talk about in various sections of our book), but it’s NOT the same as thought leadership.

CONFLICT: Do you want to spend your time curating other people’s thinking OR creating your own, unique perspective?


Tweet No. 90: Be wary of moving too quickly into solution mode. Have you spent enough time thinking?

CONFLICT: Someone Warren Buffett would respect: “I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business.” OR an 85 per center, according to Thomas Edison (1847-1931): “Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”

Tweet No. 104: Remember the #1 desire of clients: relevance. How might you customize a single piece of research to better serve specific target sectors?

CONFLICT: You believe one-size-fits-all OR you take your master idea and repurpose it, as suggested above.

Tweet No. 140: Thought leaders are brave; explore areas others don’t, raise questions others won’t, and provide insights others can’t.

CONFLICT: Continue as you always have, churning out branded content, generic best practice/case studies and white papers (i.e., stay in base camp — see featured image)  OR make the effort to climb to the top of the mountain?

What do you consider to be the biggest impediment for you specifically or anyone generally of being recognized by others as a thought leader?

Dr. Liz Alexander is an action-oriented thinker who helps individuals and organizations produce a steady stream of insightful, influential, impactful ideas to be shared as thought leading books, articles, blog posts, presentations and corporate initiatives. She is co-founder of Leading Thought. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter: @LeadThought and @DrLizAlexander. Download her speaker sheet here and the brochure Establishing Your B2B Pipeline of Thought Leading Influencers

About Dr. Liz Alexander

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our posts