How to be a thought leader
If you want to take your business and your leadership to the next level, you need to become a thought leader.
You can be a thought leader known only by the leadership team in your organization. You can be a thought leader known only by your 25 clients. And you can be a thought leader known by a growing community of thousands of followers.
But a huge following isn’t necessary for thought leadership.
Being a thought leader requires two things: thought and leadership.
Thinking is hard
If all you do is read the same books as every other coach or leader, then you will think like every other coach and leader.
Seth Godin, Oprah, Simon Sinek, Brené Brown and Tim Ferris are fascinating people. They certainly think differently. But they are ubiquitous.
If you really want to think differently then stop reading and watching the people that everyone else is reading and watching.
Breakthrough insights often come at the intersection of ideas – between fields and disciplines that are so unlike there is no basis for comparison.
This is why I read about risk and innovation and finance and exponential technology and play and parenting and death and history and habits and high performance and leadership and marketing and psychology and spirituality and geopolitics and diversity and lateral thinking and negotiation and violence and religion and relationships and lateral thinking and spying and the military and longevity.
Surround yourself with people who think differently.
It’s why I have built a diverse community whose members include a former aide to President Obama, a coach to the leaders of a trillion dollar organization, a former Navy Seal, a former leader at Facebook who is non-binary, a first-generation Ghanian American who started his career as one of the only black actuaries in his field and one of the only black employees in his tech company, and an attorney whose company protects families from the devastating legal effects of disability and death. These are fascinating people who challenge my thinking.
Leadership is hard
It looks like the image on the left but it feels like the image on the right:
This is true whether you’re the leader of an organization, a team in business or the military, or whether you’re a thought leader, with thousands of people following you.
The problem with leadership is that most of our role models are either superheroes, who don’t exist in real life, or they are larger than life characters, who saved the day in extremely challenging circumstances.
Leadership is scary. (If it isn’t, you are probably not playing a big enough game).
Leadership is the realization that no one is coming to save you.
Leadership is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.
Leadership is putting a stake in the ground and making something happen, no matter what.
Thought leadership requires you to think differently and to share those thoughts, even (especially) when it scares you.
I get a lot of positive and encouraging messages from people but I also get criticism and negative comments. Some come to me directly and some second hand. But they all sting.
Do you know that I have people unsubscribe to every single email that I send?
“There is only one way to avoid criticism:
say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.”
You’re not a thought leader unless people are criticising you on a regular basis.
One of my favorite questions to draw out my clients’ thought leadership is to ask them:
What’s the second book you’d write?
You see, almost everyone knows their first book! But the second book… That’s the book you’d write if you were already successful. That’s the book you’d write if you no longer had to prove yourself. That’s the book that really scares you…
Every one of the books in this photo has been written and published by clients of mine. It takes a lot to put yourself out there in this way. And I am proud of all of them. But the game never stops.
Thought leaders never stop thinking. And they never stop leading.
Well, what’s your second book? (Don’t tell me about the first! Tell me about the second. The one that really scares you…)
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