Are you a thought leader?

thought leader, Elon Musk

It’s more important than ever to be a thought leader in your area of business. Devote 3 minutes to listen to Denise Brosseau telling Stanford University some easy steps you can take to enhance your reputation:

A thought leader, such as Elon Musk pictured above, doesn’t just talk but acts. And show others what to do. Thought leadership actually can come from people from all walks of life  and, not to forget, businesses of all sizes. We all have knowledge, experiences and opinions and by conveying them we shape people’s perception of us and our business.

Someone who has found ways of solving a problem has the potential to be a thought leader. Needless to say, many entrepreneurs fall into that category. It’s about developing, for instance, a how to guide that enable others to follow in your footsteps without having to first learn what you have learnt. Start by figuring out what you know and then share it.

Being a thought leader has the advantage of allowing you to make the next opportunity happen instead of waiting for things to happen. Once you are established as a thought leader people will find you. For maximum impact you should be consistent and diligent.

Create a brainstorming group

The majority of people don’t suddenly come up with brilliant ideas. They test them over and over with other innovative people. We frequently overlook the experiences we have had and don’t realise that they are of value to other people. However, to have maximum impact you need to have a unique perspective. Who wants to read another how to guide on  “How to succeed on Linkedin”? Unless of course you have come up with a miracle formula that makes people go from rags to riches in a month? If so, give it another name.

Because of what you have done in life you actually have information and knowledge you can share. By doing so you connect with other people. There are plenty of people out there who have not done what you have and when you share with them you build your reputation as a thought leader. But whatever you do, never forget that selling during a thought leadership presentation is considered the ultimate sin and will work against you.

Maybe you think the expression thought leadership sounds a bit like propaganda? If so, call it branding or business development, because being a thought leader can make a difference in our online world.

Do you agree with Denise about the importance of being a thought leader? Are you a thought leader? If so, what has been your experience so far? Have people been positive or have you had negative reactions? Did you make any mistakes when attempting to show others what to do? Or maybe you would like to be a thought leader? What knowledge and information do you have that are worth sharing? Have you tried to package them in say, a how to guide that others can benefit from? Has what Denise had to say given you ideas that can help you build yourself up as a thought leader? Will you hence make an attempt to do so? 

Video: stanfordbusiness – Picture: Steve Jurvetson

87 thoughts on “Are you a thought leader?

  1. Another insightful post. I am glad to see that the business world is considering other options such as a "thought leader". There was a time when a business was run like a dictatorship. The company boss, and others. ran it from the top down, ignoring those below them. They finally realized what a company is, a group of people working together toward a common goal.

  2. I like this line – "We frequently overlook the experiences we have had and don’t realise that they are of value to other people." I think this is very true. We often don't see things that are right in front of our faces especially simple and innovative solutions to problems that we may face.

  3. This is excellent advice. So true in everything we do. Taking chances and practicing / acting on our ideas. Failure and mistakes allow us to perfect or get our message across and really achieve our goals. Love this.

  4. I do try to be a thought leader, but I don't always succeed. I have always tried to proactive in figuring out my next steps and what skill I need to make it happen. This has rethink how I do that and when.

  5. Yes, I am definitely a thought leader despite not knowing the term until now. I regularly share my experience and skills with the hope that others will take them on board; this includes projects that have gone well and not so well. I am proactive in planning my steps in order to reach my goal.

  6. I love the idea of thought leadership. I never heard the term before but I think all entrepreneurs do it. I have several small business clients that use me as a sounding board and we share ideas and thoughts to bettering our own businesses. I think women really need to be able to vocalize where they want their business to go and how they will get it there. In the future, I would love to offer online community groups for women where we can share in a safe private environment. That's my goal in the next 5 years or so.

  7. The video really hit home for me, Catarina. I guess I am a thought leader, but had never really given it much consideration until now. I have always been proactive in figuring out my next steps and using my skill set to make it happen. 🙂 this post made me look at myself in a new light.

  8. I also believe we each have past experiences, and ideas that we can share with others. I have been unfortunate to be associated with many people I consider “Thought Killers”. They will not allow new ideas or past experiences be expressed. This may because I deal with a bureaucracy, or even the arrogance of those in charge. Either way, they have instilled a workplace, where things get done the way it always has, and there is no change.
    Thank you for sharing this with us, and I hope we get a thought leader soon.

  9. A provocative post – makes one think! How can I or someone else I know become a thought leader? It's not just about having the knowledge – it's also about ways to communicate the knowledge to others in a way that is helpful and inspiring. I just saw my son (he's away at college but came for a brief visit) – if he could apply some of his knowledge in a way that Denise describes, that would add even more to his usefulness to a firm.
    My recent post Benefits of a WordPress Test Site

    1. Yep and to be a thought leader he also has to come up with new ideas before anyone else. And not to forget have the qualities and personality it takes to lead which maximum 10% of humanity have.

  10. What is the difference between a thought Leader and a Mentor or an inspiring teacher? Is it the idea that the thought leader is sharing with the intent of “selling” what he or she knows?

    1. The main difference is that a thought leader is first with new ideas and set trends. How many teachers and mentors fall into that category? It's actually only a few people who really are thought leaders even if they believe they are:-)

      1. I see, so a thought leaders not only have the knowledge and skills. They see the potential and are aware of the need for what they have to offer.

  11. When I think about people I’ve encountered in my working world who I would consider thought leaders, I see some of the characteristics Denise talks about. They act, they show others, listen to others and engage others in brainstorming. They also have a great deal of curiosity and are willing to explore new avenues. They are more interested in change and good outcomes than their own egos.

  12. I think this is great advice. And I love how Denise Brosseau seems to, at times, be addressing young people specifically. When I was in my early 20s, I never thought I had an idea or experience that someone older than me would find valuable. For that reason, I turned down opportunities. I think it is great to encourage people from an early age to embrace their unique value and share it. Because even if you are good at your job, you won't get ahead by simply following others or waiting for others to lead.
    My recent post Healing a Negative Body Image

  13. Yes, I feel that I am a thought leader. I think it is very important to act and not just sit and wait for someone else to move. I find brainstorming and mastermind groups exhilerating and I love to lead them.

  14. Hi Catarina: I definitely see myself as a Thought Leader. My latest experience has been in trying to forge a new niche for special interest travel in the form of chocolate travel. This has provided many challenges, but I believe I am starting to make headway in getting people to think about chocolate as a REASON/PURPOSE for travel. Prior to that, I launched a Toastmasters club specifically for those in the local arts community. That, too, has proven challenging, but we did charter the club 2 years ago and continue to attract new members. Interesting post.

  15. I always wondered what people meant when thy called me a thought leader! LOL And that was years ago! But I have always believed in collaboration, sharing, and learning from everyone's experiences! So often it is a hybrid of many idas that turns out to be a winner:) Fabulous post!

  16. I guess after all my years of experience in many different roles, I could be considered a thought leader – being willing to share (and to brainstorm) is certainly something I have been doing through my blog. Interesting how posts like these make us look at ourselves in a different, hopefully positive way.

  17. Very interesting topic and a vey good post.

    Possibly the talk about thought leaders as just about anyone could lead to an explosion in the number of people using this title for themselves and others – causing inflation and decline for the title and the idea.

    But I agree on a social basis on the fact that most people have something interesting to share – something to teach others. We should start listening and then we will learn from people around us. Thought leaders or not.
    My recent post Top 10 reasons for never improving your processes

      1. That is probably true but it doesn't really counter my argument about inflation – the point here is that when we use a positive word or a phrase too much it is losing its attraction and could even end up being considered negative or directly rediculous.

        But I don't mind that people feel like thought leaders, experts, prophets or whatever, as it will help them explore and exploit their inner resources.

  18. Thoughtful leaders really face rejection at first!but later cherished at work place,people will just follow you to get ideas.

    1. “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.”

      ― Mahatma Gandhi –
      who was a thought leader

  19. I believe there needs to be a good mix in a group. Some are not thought leaders but have valuable information to share within a group. A good mix of different personalities can compliment each other. I do consider myself a fore runner in being a though leader but I do contribute to a lot of projects and my opinion is respected and valued.
    My recent post Effective Blog Commenting

  20. I would say that I've never named it "thought leadership," but it is what I try to do, through my blog and wherever I have been for work and school. Thanks!

  21. Catarina,
    I thought the video was very good but also inspiring.

    I look at a thought leader who has a vision and will be able to become the captain of the ship who knows how to chart the course in which direction the leader wants the business to go in so others will folow. First you have to had the respect of others so that they will listen.

    I find that past experiences and age does help when trying to portray a thought leader. I sold REal estate for 25 years. What I bring to my employees is that the biggest lesson I learned is service, service, and more service. View our customers as each one is the only one we have. When I hear them say this customer is unreasonable, I say first realize that you are not the problem. It is how you handle the problem. Give them the service that they deserve you will have a happy customer. With this phylosofy we have a very high return rate of customers.

    I also hold brain storm meetings where I listen to what the employees have to say. I want to hear what they think will make our business grow. Having the people that work for you on board allows them to look at the job as a place where things can improve for all and not a job where you come, you leave, and receive your paycheck.
    My recent post What does it mean to Pay It Forward?

  22. Great post and video Catarina! I agree with her completely and love the many points that are highlighted here, especially "Being a thought leader has the advantage of allowing you to make the next opportunity happen instead of waiting for things to happen".

    To be a thought leader we must ACT! And have the courage to take risks, face rejection, make mistakes… yet remain true to our mission and pursue it with passion.

    Great ideas on brainstorming and testing on smaller audience. My goal is to be a thought leader, to inspire moms to embrace their unique beauty and strength and pursue their own dreams as they encourage and inspire their children to do the same!
    My recent post The Wonders of Lavender

    1. Yes what she says about though leadership is a good reminder to us all to act and share our knowledge and experience, isn't it Valerie. Good luck with becoming a thought leader!

  23. Very enlightening post. I’ve often thought that we we have today is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it. And we’re seeing it everywhere in our lives – from congress to charitable giving. To be a thought leader, I think we have to think way way out of the box and encourage the younger people to look for alternative thinking as well.

    My recent post Mr. Weiner’s wiener…Where’s The Justice?

    1. Absolutely, Jacqueline. A thought leader really have to think outside the box and inspire people to do what they otherwise would not have done. If not, they are experts.

  24. Hi Catrina,

    I love this post! I think you're absolutely right – our experiences bring us knowledge and experience that we can share with others. I think too often we discount our knowledge for a variety of reasons, whether they be doubt, fear or circumstance. But one thing I've learned over the years is there's ALWAYS an audience for everyone. Speak of your experience, be humble and open to other's and as thought leaders, we can guide our own paths and help each other.
    My recent post Living Portraits: Ohksocialmedia on the Radio!

  25. Great article as always Catarina! I work with web entrepreneurs and start to see a pattern amongst us. It is a growing community of web entrepreneurs who aspire to be thought leaders and create change in the world. If that is true, what could change with many manu thought leaders influence our society?

    My recent post Vilken roll spelar du i sociala medier?

    1. Thank you, Anna. More thought leaders is in theory positive, but what is a thought leader? If you google “how to succeed on Linkedin” you get 16,900,000 results. Is a person who writes yet another guide on how to succed on Linkedin a thought leader? Yes, if they come up with something really different from the other 17 million guides. There has to be something new for it to be considered thought leadership.

  26. I agree with Susan's perspective on this. Thought leadership has to be about more than your personal best practices around a problem that has already been solved. It should include the synthesizing of ideas into a new solution or improved practice or as you said, a unique perspective.

    One of the best parts about blogging is that it can enhance your opportunity to become a thought leader. Not because you are sharing your "how tos" but because of the volume of ideas that you get exposed to as a consequence of sharing. It's like a weekly online brainstorming group, all you have to do is be smart enough to glean some new insight from all those clever ideas.
    My recent post Have We Run Out Of Stories?

    1. Agree with you completely Debra. Love being exposed to the multitude of ideas you come across when blogging. Learn a lot about issues I most likely would not even have contemplated. Coming up with new insights is, as you say, what differentiates a thought leader.

  27. It is important to hold some arena where you, your organization have and bring expertise to those they serve (seek to serve). Hucksters can get one deal, sale, contract but cannot maintain long term relationships.
    This is why employee development is so vital to remaining competitive in the marketplace. It needs to be an ongoing part of organizational process.

    1. Agree with you, Paul, about the importance of making sure you benefit from all ideas staff in your organisation has. They come up with new and innovative insights that enable your company to be a thought leader.

  28. The video really resonated with me. It was as if she were speaking to me. I have never consider the fact that I could be a thought leader and how that plays into my next opportunity happen. I have never been one to wait for the next thing to happen. Thus I have been more proactive in what I need to do next and how to use my collective/learned skill-set to help me move forward in a new direction. This raised my spirits and awareness because I realized that is what I'm doing now. 🙂
    My recent post Survey Results: Finding Our Way Now

  29. Thought Leadership is key to success. In marketing, without a thought leadership angle, getting your press release published is very tough. In sales, a thought leadership approach can move the conversation beyond one of just price/cost. In leadership, of course, being able to demonstrate thought leadership is what will get people behind you, working for the success of the business.

    I don't see the term in a negative light at all – it's really about finding the best way to get your point across.

  30. Great thought ! I am glad Catherina brought out a new dimension in leadership " thought leader" …..a true Leader should be a " thought leader"….

  31. Catarina — very interesting video and post. I've never thought of myself as a thought leader although, by her definition, I am. That's because I mentor younger people based on my business experience over many years. I enjoy it and know they are very appreciative. I haven't "packaged" this knowledge in a book or guide as Pat is going to.

    Prof. Brosseau doesn't mention mentoring. But that's how people have learned over the ages. It used to be called apprenticing. That's how people learned a trade or profession, at the knee of a master. Now the modern college has taken on the role. Frankly, they haven't done a good job. Young liberal arts graduates come out without having learned anything practical that will get them a job. Yes, it's important to learn the classics and become "well rounded" but that is a model that went out of fashion when the middle-class gained access to higher education, which was no longer the preserve of the rich and monied class who went to college as a sort of "finishing school." They didn't need to worry about learning something that could earn them a living.

    You can tell I feel pretty strongly about this. When a college graduate can't even write a complete sentence something is terribly wrong with the system.
    My recent post Should You Fiddle With Your Brand by Renaming Your Company?

    1. Presumably she didn't mention mentorship because she was concentrating on online thought leadership, Jeannette. You are right about what you say about mentorship and education. We have the same problem in Europe. A friend of mine is a law professor and they are having huge problems with people studing law not being able to write and have no command of Swedish.

  32. I disagree with her in some aspects Catarina. Thought leaders to me are those that have developed insights that can be translated into actions and solution over a long time. Her examples are more about showing your expertise, which is only part of the topic. Also a thought leader is looking at trends and seeking ways to solve problems for the future. Einstein was a thought leader.

    When I hear or read examples of thought leaders today what they have done is adapt proven ideas from history and making them relevant for today. That is smart business but I wouldn't call them thought leaders. My 2 cents. Great article as usual Catarina.
    My recent post Looking For Business Expansion? Consider These Factors

  33. That is an interesting question – 'What knowledge and information do you have that are worth sharing'? I would love to think that I am a thought leader. More importantly I would love to raise my son as a thought leader. I do balk at the question though. I do hope that I am displaying thought leadership through my blog as I discover things and impart that knowledge on.

    My recent post I always wanted one of those!

    1. Most likely you are a thought leader for people with the kind of medical problems you are, Rebecca. Hope your son will be a thought leader in the future, or whatever they will call it when he is grown up.:-)

  34. Interesting post, as usual Catarina. In particular for me it's relevant this week because I've had several people call me a thought leader. That's in attention to my own business coach who is quite the encourager. I've authored several ebooks and one book (long ago) for introverts in particular. What particularly struck me for what Denise says, and it is where I am currently having just contracted with a book publisher, is to codify the ideas into a framework solution for others. One of the biggest issues in my way is actually assuming that others already know what I know and balancing that with what others don't necessarily know. Aye yea yea. Thanks!
    My recent post The Marketing Playing Field Has Leveled Part 2 by Guest Blogger Kathleen Gage

    1. Thank you, Pat. Glad you are regarded as a thought leader. It's true that we have to codify our ideas, based on our knowledge and experiences, into a framwork solution for others. It's easy to assume that others know what we know. But don't forget that it works the other way round as well, some people think they know what we know, even if they don't:-)

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.