What does it take to be a thought leader?

I attended an exclusive, intimate event last week focused around thought leadership. 12 of us spent three days talking about what it takes to be a thought leader and how to go about becoming a thought leader in your area of expertise (mine is operational excellence). Here are some of the key points:

  • To be a thought leader you need to constantly have new, edgy and provocative ideas
  • Your ideas must be pragmatic and realistic
  • You need to spread your ideas through different vehicles-the Internet, books, articles, audio, video, visuals, and so on
  • You need to have a following, people need to know who you are and be interested in your ideas
  • Your ideas need to be readily available for people to see
  • You need to look at what others have done and enhance their ideas
  • You must have a passion for what you do and a desire to make a difference

We had a well-known thought leader spend an afternoon with us and it was an informative experience. However, her views of the world were pessimistic and in some cases, fatalistic. Her belief is that people can't change, so why bother trying. This was not the view that was held by the majority of us in the room, so it led to an interesting discussion because everyone has their own perspective and viewpoint and experience. This helped me draw the conclusion that the more pragmatic the idea, the more it will be embraced by others. This thought leader's ideas were revoluntionary, but not pragmatic, so organizations had difficulty in implementing them.

Thought leaders feel compelled to share their views with others because of the improvements that people can make in their lives and their organizations by adopting their ideas. But with that comes the pressue to produce new ideas and prove that your ideas work in the real world. You need to decide if that is something you strive for. Thought leadership is not for the faint of heart.

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