Ever heard the expression: “The more you know about something the more you realize there is to know?” Well I’m quite sure the opposite mirrors the Conscious Competence model which goes something like: “The less you know about something the more unconsciously incompetent you are.”
After eight years of studying, researching, blogging, writing books and consulting on thought leadership I’ve started to develop a deeper understanding of the topic. I’m slowly but surely moving up the Competency Model and as I do, I am increasingly aware that the more I learn the more there is to learn. So when I read an article published in a reputable publication like The Huffington Post titled ‘The 7 defining traits of thought leaders’ in which money, beauty, charm and connections are listed as four of the seven thought leadership traits, I am compelled to stand up and say no, no, no and no. And a capitalized NO at the mention of Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Marilyn Monroe and Michael Phelps as examples of thought leaders.
Evan Bailyn is the author of this article, and while I uphold his freedom of expression and opinion, I have to disagree strongly with much of his article, especially with respect to these four traits. There is no doubt that having money, beauty, charm and connections may help with respect to many outcomes in life, but when we’re talking thought leadership, that’s about having something new to say, preferably evidence-based, that frames an existing conversation or contributes new insights to an issue, a theoretical position, a challenge, or a sector.
Neither money, beauty, charm nor connections will make you a thought leader
Money, beauty, charm and connections have nothing to do with the traits of a true thought leader and none of these, either on their own or combined, will make you a thought leader – ever.
The other three traits that Evan lists: intelligence, ability and self-confidence, certainly help but based on the work we’ve done at Leading Thought and my exposure, over the years, to some great examples of thought leadership as well as thought leaders from around the world, my suggestion would be to substitute those four traits with the following:
The genuine traits of a thought leader
Brave/courageous: As we emphasize in Tweet #140 of our book, Thought Leadership Tweet, thought leaders are brave. They have the courage of their convictions. They are brave with their ideas, brave with the work they present, and brave in the knowledge that they may endure criticism and in some instances ridicule for their ideas.
It’s not easy being the first to market with a new idea. What if you’re wrong? What if the market dismisses you out of hand? What if doing so impacts your reputation and your business negatively? These are all legitimate questions. However, as we’ve seen with good thought leadership, the rewards far outweigh the risks.
Take the Dove campaign for Real Beauty example. How many boards, marketers or brand managers do you know who would give the green light to spend big on a campaign that initially didn’t mention any of the company’s products on the main campaign website? Let alone challenge the way an entire industry had historically marketed beauty products?
Client or customer centric: True thought leaders are aligned with their market, clients or customers. They have an intimate knowledge of their needs, their greatest challenges and issues. Their thought leadership perspective typically taps into and addresses one or more of these challenges and issues in a way no-one else has thought of doing.
Visionary: Thought leaders are visionary. Rather than the likes of Seth Rogen, Jaden Pinkett Smith, and Marilyn Monroe that Evan cites, think more along the lines of Richard Branson, Steve Jobs (who is in his list), Bill Gates, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Marie Curie, and Anita Roddick.
Abundance mentality: Last but not least, thought leaders readily share their views. They have an abundance mentality and are happy to broadcast their ideas and thoughts openly, with whomever is prepared to listen to them.
These four traits, in my experience, are more indicative of the traits of true thought leaders. But, ultimately, it is the market that will determine whether you are a thought leader or not. What do you think?
To find out how companies and individuals have used their insights and thought leadership to grow their business, click on this eight-part audio series. This bumper thought leadership package comes with numerous free thought leadership books, including our award winning #Thought Leadership Tweet: 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign.