On Thought Leadership

I’ve noticed a trend in how both individuals and organizations want to be known as “thought leaders” in their field. And while thought leaders certainly exists, here are a couple observations about this push to be labeled as such.

1) First, titles are a tricky thing. Maybe it’s just the cynic in me, but sometimes the way someone describes themselves ends up undermining what they’re trying to convey. For instance, calling yourself creative, or innovative, or even a thought leader, does very little for me. In fact, in some ways it undermines your credibility as such. Do creative people actually have to tell others they’re creative? Do experts in a field really have to remind others that they’re the expert?

It’s one things for someone else to tell me how creative, or helpful, or insightful you are. But it’s different when you tell me those exact same things about yourself. When someone else is saying it, there’s much more weight and credibility. When you’re the one saying it, it only makes me wonder why you have to tell me in the first place.

My hunch is that those who are the most creative, the most innovative, the bona fide leaders in their field, are more focused on the work they’re doing than the labels used to describe them.

2) Second, there’s a difference between commenting on what’s happening in your field, and actually being the one others are commenting about—between doing original research (or synthesizing new ideas), and in reporting (or parroting) what the true leaders in the field are doing. Both roles have their place, and it helps to know which you’re actually doing.

Many want to be recognized as a leader in their respective field. But are they willing to invest the time and focused work to become one? Because ultimately, being one has nothing to do with what you put on your bio or business card, and everything to do with generating work that influences others.