Why You Don’t Need to Be a Thought Leader

Why You Don’t Need to Be a Thought Leader

Reader Comments (28)

  1. Hey Sonia Simone, this is indeed a good read. Renowned Editor William Zinsser taught that we should use words that spark imagination in us. I completely agree with him. ‘Thought leadership’ doesn’t help me imagine anything, but ‘Influence’ really does. Your article reminded me of him. Thanks!

  2. You don’t need to tell everyone why you are right all the time. Instead you need to try out ideas, share your experiences and somehow crave the path for your tribe to follow, if they choose.

    Leadership is the goal – where you can be wrong, learn along the way or be boring sometimes.

  3. Fantastic read! I have been seeing so many ‘thought’ leaders around me with either little or no thought. Thank you so much for this article.

  4. It’s be frustrating if not a tragedy to try and be the trend setter in any niche/area because other ‘market’ forces will always pull the crowd in a different direction. I think it is wiser to anticipate and lead rather than ‘think’ you are still leading.

    • Trying to set trends is a risky endeavor.

      Sometimes when you put out good and compelling work, and get it into enough people’s hands, you’ll find that you set a trend. Which is great … I just haven’t seen a lot of folks create value trying to put the cart before the horse.

  5. Sorry to get all Comic Book Guy on you. But it was actually Moe, not Homer, who called the garage a car “hold”. Although there is some debate as to whether he said “hole” or “hold”.

  6. This is brilliant, Sonia, and…
    “If you are in possession of special, unique wisdom that no one else knows about, either you’ve dressed some old wisdom in a new suit or you are pushing a great big pile of BS.”
    …tells it all.
    Thought leadership, content marketing or buyer persona are all such things.
    I would also add that when there is an institute to prop up and hawk such concepts, we know the concept is old wine in new bottle.
    David Ogilvy was doing content marketing and the buyer persona stuff, when he sat down, listed the companies that he wanted as clients and started writing articles around their subject matters.
    In Scientific Advertising, Claude Hopkins was writing about offering information that helps people make buying decisions. That was content marketing.
    John Dere’s “newsletter”, the The Furrow was thought leadership, starting in 1885.
    The Ladies’ Home Journal was thought leadership, starting. in 1883.
    The 400-page Michelin Guide, published in 1900, was thought leadership.
    And at that time, concepts spread based on their merits not because institutes were pushing them.
    My observation is that most thought leaders are academics who have never worked in the free market economy and have never run businesses.

    • And we have poured many, many bottles of old wine into new bottles. 🙂 The difference is, we like to tell you that’s exactly what we’re doing.

      The Michelin Guide may be my all-time favorite content marketing example. Need people to wear out more tires? Publish a guide so they’re inspired to take more motoring trips, and they enjoy them more. Marvelous.

  7. Referring to oneself as a “thought leader” has always struck me as the ultimate in pretentiousness (is “pretentiousness” a word?).

    Kind of like using “leverage” as a verb (my pet peeve). Everyone knows that “leverage” means to use someone or something to get what you want. Why not be honest about it?

    Okay… back to leveraging my influence in the marketing space to enhance my position as a thought leader!

  8. Hey,

    Thanks for the amazing post. I am in love with the line-Thought leaders strive for new ideas. Leaders strive for good ideas.

    Being a thought leader will make you successful leader in a long term but running after a good idea will work for a while but not in a long run.

    Thanks again for the great post.

  9. Hey Sonia,

    finally someone speaks up. 🙂

    For me ‘thought leadership’ is as overused and empty as every other marketing drivel.

    I think a good rule here is – as in writing, or even love for that matter – ‘show, don’t tell’.

    That means, there’s nothing WRONG with being a thought leader.

    If you are a thought leader: fine. (But chances are, you’re not, hehe) If you’re not, that’s okay, too. Either way, you don’t have to say it. 🙂

    Be inspirational, be smart, be good. That’s a pretty good start …

    Thanks for a great read and best wishes from Germany

  10. Thank you, Sonia.

    I hated the term also and would often tune out when I happened upon it in podcasts and blog posts because the phrase rang so hollow.

    But something about how you squared the term “leadership” in contrast to its bastard-child-of-a-phrase that gave me the push I needed on a project I’ve been reluctant to commit to.

    Experience has its highest value when it’s in service to others in helping them take the next step forward.

    And this post made that clear to me better than anything I’ve read or heard in a long time.

    • Cool stuff, Michael — glad you’re moving forward with that project. 🙂

      I’ve found that there’s a lot of not-knowing involved in real leadership, and the “thought leader” construct sometimes has a hard time being willing to work with that.

  11. As usual, very well-executed, Sonia.

    A couple of comments from the perspective of one who has worked for a couple of thought leaders:

    (1) They are rock stars in their own mind; shooting stars in the eyes of their audience. That’s not where you want to be. Keep it humble, know your shit and share the wealth.

    (2) Even if you do stumble upon a new idea or build a better mousetrap, the model isn’t sustainable. What are you going to come up with NEXT???

    (3) When you hit rock star status, you need the support of a machine. And the machines these guys build are usually worse than they are–hungry, demanding employee eaters.

    • Interesting insights. I think most people have very little understanding of the “rock star” life — it has its own problems and from my observation, it doesn’t actually look particularly satisfying. Good points about both the sustainability of new-and-shiny and the oppressive tendencies of that machine.

  12. Great article Sonia.

    Too many people out there full of their own importance or people trying to be someone they are not. You can almost smell their crap.

    I operate a bs-free zone. I don’t claim to be innovative or ground-breaking. I just claim to translate stuff into simple advice and strategies that my clients can understand and implement. I’m a simple soul and i talk like a normal person, not some fricking robot or 22 year old life coach who’s decided they know how the world of works.

    Power to the normal people.

  13. Sonia,
    Every time I read one of your articles, I find it simple and to the point. I suppose being a thought leader may be cool, but like you say, we should just implement the thoughts we already have. I find it like reading to learn but never applying the knowledge. There comes a time when we have to get the hammer out and drive a few nails.

  14. Awww, Sonia, can’t we do away with the term leadership as well? I don’t need my thoughts led.

    PS Here’s a new old thought to enhance the user friendliness of a comments section: put the comment box up top and the name – email- website boxes at the bottom. We first want to jot down our enthusiastic comment before getting down to the nitty gritty of filling out our particulars.

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