Thought leadership?

Related to what I just said about holding questions, I often feel anxious when people bang on about thought leadership.

There’s no doubt there appears to be a huge market for big name experts, so I get the appeal.

There’s something about setting out to be the expert people look up to that feels rather aggressive to me. And perhaps equally suspect are the people who make a living claiming that their life mission is to help you present yourself as one. You have to ask yourself, what game are we all playing here?

Your mileage may vary, but the people I’m most attracted to are the ones who seem fuelled by curiosity and enthusiasm. If they take strong positions on things I sense that its because they really believe it. I think I’m getting better these days at spotting the little clues that people are just striking a pose – clever jargon, the tossing of precise facts with faux-casualness etc.

And, ironically, it’s when we stop trying to be clever and accidentally leave our intended audience confused rather than trying to lead them, that we may get more attention. As ever, the Pythons make this point much more effectively than I could.

6 thoughts on “Thought leadership?

  1. Euan Semple

    Bit like the whole celebrity thing generally. Watching people like Stephen Fry do a good job of dealing with the numbers I found myself wondering how natural the tendency to “celebrate” some more than others is and how much we can unlearn it.

  2. Antony Mayfield

    I was about to type “I totally agree”, and then the scene where Brian’s girlfriend is saying to the John Cleese character “Yes, Reg, absolutely, Reg,” sprang to mind. 🙂

    But, Yes, Johnnie, Absolutely, Johnnie…

    I always think that people who try to hard are easy to spot and they start making you feel uncomfortable and start to tune them out. I weed out my RSS feeds and Twitter follows on this basis often. It’s the point at which people start to sound a little bit, holy, precious about what they are saying that you get worried.

    And, I worry in case I ever start sounding like that. If I think I am I often tune myself out and stop talking/blogging/Tweeting for a bit. Maybe they are all right after all and I’m just paranoid.

    Anyway… what I really wanted to say was that I think that the best way to avoid becoming like one of the ranting holy men in the bazaar in Life of Brian is to follow that other humourous mystic’s advice, Douglas Adams, on the Art of Flying:

    “There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying.

    “The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” –

    If you can’t forget about how what you are saying is being perceived, whether you are absolutely right or not, whether people will sneer or cheer when you say it – at least forget about it mostly – it is unlikely that you are really going to ever say anything really useful at all.

  3. Dana VanDen Heuvel


    Really? You feel that way about the whole genre of thought leaders and those of us who want to help organizations reach said status? I have a couple of thoughts I want to share.

    The subject of expert is a touchy one, because there’ so much being made of “experts” these days, but let’s look at the motivation here. Why wouldn’t someone or an organization want to put in the effort, do the due diligence and dig deep to understand their customers to attain expert status? “Attain” is the operative word. We all strive and work hard at being useful and valuable until our customers and the industry tells us that we’ve arrived, at least in a way that’s relevant to them. Seems like a worthwhile pursuit to me.

    Real thought leaders, the kind that I work work with who follow the “altruism before capitalism” philosophy that I believe in are exactly those people that have the genuine curiosity and enthusiasm that you respect. That’s what makes them though leaders, or, whatever you wan to call them. Ideally, the will also take strong positions on things that really matter to their customers and their industry for whom they assume a modest stewardship role.

    Your sense that they do this all because they really believe in something is spot on.

    That all said, I’ve seen a cheapening of the concept of thought leadership, and of course, we see that with the “how to dominate social media and make wild profits get rich quick schemes” in the social media space.

    Real prospects seeking true thought leaders have great BS detectors and will see through the posers and impostors. However, it’s those posers and impostors that necessitate the importance of genuine thought leaders who are useful, altruistic, aware, focus on bringing clarity out of chaos and just plain focus on moving their market forward in an ethical and prudent fashion.

  4. Kye Swenson

    Ha, I like the video as a means to prove your point. Maybe we can use this in my office some time because there is too much jargo thrown around; it can get annoying.


Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.