The latest craze in the marketing world is the term “thought leadership.” Virtually overnight, it turned into a world-wide gobbledygook festival as hordes of marketers, bloggers and journalists scrambled to establish themselves as “thought leaders” in their respective fields. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them have no clue what it actually is. And predictably, just as quickly as the label surfaced, it completely lost its meaning. This article explores the meaning of thought leadership—what it really is, and how to tell if you have it.
The Essential Word is Leadership
Thought Leadership is just that: A form of leadership. Sadly, the majority of self-proclaimed “thought leaders” ignore the leadership component entirely. They slap the term “thought leader” onto their professional bio’s, inflate their chest, and start stomping around (thoughtfully, of course.)
Ironically, the very act of labeling yourself as a thought leader only serves to establish you as a follower. It’s the same irony found when a creative agency uses the word “creative” to differentiate themselves.
The Followers Decide Who the Leaders Are
One of the most telling qualities of a true leader is they don’t proclaim themselves as such. They lead by example and by action, and it’s their followers who anoint them with title. As a thought leader, the person you want to be is General Hasegawa in The Last Samurai. When introduced by Simon Graham, he is described as:
…small in stature, but nonetheless commands enormous respect.
Conversely, don’t end up like King Joffrey in Game of Thrones. Nobody likes King Joffrey.
If You Can Find It In Google… It’s Not a Leading Thought
The thing about leadership, especially in the realm of thought, is that it requires original thought. You don’t lead with a flag that says “Me Too!” You lead with a flag that says “Me, and Me Only.”
The only way to establish your firm as a thought leader is to break new ground. You can’t rely on the research, opinions and thoughts of others as a platform for your leadership. This only makes you a follower.
Essentially, thought leadership requires the same kind of far-flung vision and certifiable determination that put airplanes in the air, submarines underwater, and man into space. First, you must see beyond the present. Then you must commit fully to taking that road—in the face of all opposition and fear.
Opposition and Fear: A Litmus Test for Thought Leadership
If you’re truly a thought leader, opposition and fear will surround your every move. Breaking new ground means being unpopular, ostracized, feared and rejected. If you don’t feel fear every day, you’re not a thought leader. If nobody opposes or misunderstands what you’re doing, you’re not a thought leader.
Ultimately, you should be terrified to hit the “Post” button. If that’s how you feel when you create content, you’re well on your way to breaking free of “thought leadersheep.”