A leader in thought does not make you a thought leader

by · July 29, 20143 comments

In the post “Is your ego driving your social presence”), I asked how often you focus on being a thought leader as an indicator of whether or not ego is driving your presence. This is a pretty big topic that likely will bring up mixed feelings, so I wanted to take some time to really open the conversation about whether or not thought leadership means ego is driving your social presence.

Why do you want to be a thought leader?

ThinkerWhat difference does it really make if you or your brand is a thought leader? As an individual, perhaps you’ll be more respected, have more credibility, get more speaking engagements, or even make more money. As a brand, perhaps you’ll be more respected, have more credibility, get more PR, get more customers, and generate more revenue. As you can see, there is quite a bit of ego wrapped up in all of the benefits being a thought leader offers. What if instead of focusing on being a thought leader, you focused on giving your greatest gift and only that? Do you know what your greatest gift is? What if all of this work trying to be a thought leader and letting ego drive the bus is what is holding you or your company back from your true potential? If it is, what good is being a thought leader at all? That sounds like a lot of work to end up being mediocre.

What does being a thought leader really mean?

This question is really at the heart of the debate. There are a lot of individuals and brands who have worked really hard to position themselves as thought leaders, but, when you pull back the curtain, how many are truly thought leaders? I would argue that a leader in thought does not make you a thought leader.

It’s actually much easier to come up with good ideas that sound great on paper than it is to come up with ideas that result in plans that get implemented with tangible results on the back end. If I were to analyze some people I believe are true visionaries in our lifetime, it’s a pretty short list: Elon Musk, Tony Hseih, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos are right at the top. These individuals are not leaders in thought; they are leaders who turn forward-thinking thoughts into action, today, despite a mountain of obstacles in their way. That’s something worth respecting and something that is truly inspirational at the deepest level.

Interestingly enough, they are celebrated both as visionaries and thought leaders.

If you or your brand were really a thought leader would you have to be positioned as one?

Results take a lot longer to formalize than an idea

Perhaps what it really boils down to is that real thought leaders don’t have to spend time positioning themselves as a thought leader because their results speak for themselves. How much positioning do you think Elon Musk, Tony Hseih, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos have done for themselves and their brands? I honestly don’t know the answer, but I’m guessing it’s very little. If we were to entirely remove ego from the equation of thought leadership, the only thing that is left is the work, the results. Results don’t need to be positioned. Results are what they are. They could be tremendous, they could be mediocre, or they could be really cruddy. In any case, if we started celebrating people and brands for what they do versus what they say, how would our lineup of thought leaders change? Would we have a really hard time coming up with a list? I certainly would because what I see is a lot of talk about ideas and far less talk about results. Results take a lot longer to formalize than an idea. Many times the gap of time between an idea and the results it delivers is so great that the idea doesn’t seem as sexy anymore. At that point, the next question becomes even more important.

Are you really a thought leader at all?

If the gap of time between the idea and the results being delivered is so great that the idea isn’t sexy anymore, was the idea ever thought leading? Probably not. If it’s still sexy when the results came in, perhaps it really was thought leading. All of this forces us to step back and ask, are we really thought leaders at all? Have we really done something that created visionary results? And if we were to look at our brands, can a brand be thought leading? I mean, a brand can’t think, so it really it comes down to how thought leading the people behind the brand really are. Are your leaders and employees doing something that is still visionary when the results come in? If not, then isn’t this thought leadership stuff just smoke and mirrors? Isn’t it all just a bunch of lies? If they are, the results will speak for themselves and your industry’s media outlets will be beating down the door to figure out the story behind how you created them. Thought leadership unlocked.

When I really started to look deeply at thought leadership, I found that in a lot of cases we are equating ego with thought leadership. We are celebrating a lot of ideas that haven’t proven out to deliver results. As followers of thought leaders, I believe we can stop this trend. We can start asking the tough questions that cut through the smoke and mirrors. If thought leaders were asked, “What tangible results has this idea delivered?”, we’d start to see who is the real deal and which ones have positioned themselves into a place of authority they may not deserve.

For ourselves, I believe we are all worth so much more than positioning ourselves as thought leaders. I believe we are all doing important work that will deliver results. When those results come to fruition, it won’t matter to us if anyone else celebrates with us, or if anyone else cares about our ideas, because we will have already won. The results will speak for themselves.

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About Nichole Kelly

Nichole Kelly

Nichole Kelly is the CEO of Social Media Explorer|SME Digital. She is also the author of How to Measure Social Media. Her team helps companies figure out where social media fits and then helps execute the recommended strategy across the “right” mix of social media channels. Do you want to rock the awesome with your digital marketing strategy? Contact Nichole

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