Thought Leadershi+

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In a blog post titled Ten Ways to Adapt to the Evolution of Social Media, Vocus offers “ten ways to keep your social marketing up to date as social media for business evolves.” The list — which is pretty good (and I hate lists like these) — includes:

“9. Emerge as a thought leader. This one is tough – but not impossible. Do you want your product or service to be the industry leader? Pay attention to news, figure out trends, make predictions and gather data to share. People will look to you as the “expert” when you’re a step ahead of the curve.”

My take:: There is nothing as over-rated in today’s business environment as thought leadershit, oops, I mean leadership.

A while back, I wrote about the topic of thought leadership. Considering that you probably don’t remember what I wrote last week, let alone last year, I’m sure few (no, make that no one) will find it redundant of me to reiterate a few thoughts:

According to a blog post on the Harvard Business Review site, there are six steps towards becoming a thought leader: 1) Create a robust online presence; 2) Flaunt high-quality affiliations; 3) Give public speeches; 4) Appear on TV; 5) Win some awards; and 6) Publish a book.  By that criteria, Snooki is a thought leader.

Interestingly, nowhere on the list is any mention of having new, original, and/or innovative ideas.

It doesn’t matter, actually. Remember that Jack Nicholson movie where he yells “You can’t handle the truth!”? If you want to be a thought leader, I can tell you — doing my best Jack Nicholson impression — that “You can’t become a thought leader!”

Here’s why:

1. You have a real job. People who have a real job have responsibilities, and things they’re accountable for. They don’t have time to sit around and dream shit up in order to be seen as a thought leader.

2. You don’t have a job. I’m not making a qualitative judgement here. But if you’re between jobs, looking for your next gig, and you expect to come up with something that will enable you to be seen as a thought leader, think again. It takes a lot of time and effort to become a thought leader, and if you’re looking for a real job, your time is better spent finding that job.

3. You haven’t been in a job for very long. I know what you’re thinking: “You think that just because I’m only 25 years old, and have only been in the business world for three years, that I can’t become a thought leader?” Yep. That’s exactly what I’m thinking. Thought leaders don’t just have good/new ideas — they understand how those ideas relate to the ideas and concepts that have come before. There are two ways to get that knowledge: You experienced it, or you studied it. And at 25 years old, it’s pretty damn likely that you’ve done neither.

4. You don’t have the internal fortitude. Do you realize that becoming a thought leader means going public with an idea, or bunch of ideas, that are likely to be challenged, dismissed, derided, and/or ignored? Probably not. Do you really want to invite that kind of possibility for rejection on yourself? Probably not.

5. You don’t understand what thought leadership really is. Fortunately for you — the readers of this blog post — this point doesn’t apply. But there are a lot of people out there — a lot — who think that thought leadership is regurgitating meaningless platitudes about the need for companies to do things differently, to innovate, to adopt social media, to whatever. That’s not thought leadership. It’s thought leadershi+.


Far be it for me to try to impose a definition of thought leadership on anybody, but as far as I’m concerned thought leadership boils down to one thing: Influence. If you influence how people think about things, you’re a thought leader. 

The HBR’s list includes ways to increase awareness of your thought leadershipness, but in and of themselves, don’t qualify you as a thought leader.

So, please: For the sake of all of us who are trying to survive and thrive in the new world of business, go back to your real jobs and leave the thought leadership stuff to the pros. And please don’t resort to any thought leadershi+. 

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