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Thought leadership is an attribution, not an aspiration

Thought leadership is an attribution, not an aspiration

There’s a lot of discussion about thought leadership in social media and digital marketing circles — how one goes about becoming a thought leader.

And that’s a great drive to have, a journey which takes courage and ambition, but for me, the term ‘thought leader’ is not so much an aspiration. It’s an attribution. You can’t label yourself a ‘thought leader’, only others can tag you as such – for me, you shouldn’t aspire to be a thought leader as much as you should aspire to be the best of the best at what you do.

If your mission is to be as helpful, knowledgeable, and forward-thinking as you can, then you’ll indirectly be on the path to becoming a thought leader, but aiming straight for that higher target seems flawed – it’s like a budding artist saying ‘I’m going to be the greatest of all-time’ as opposed to ‘the best I can be’ (and we already have Kanye West for those kind of hi-jinks).

But here’s the thing – we do, absolutely, need leaders and change-makers. I guess one of the aspects I dislike about aiming to be a ‘thought leader’ is that many people mistake this for a path within itself and try to replicate what other ‘thought leaders’ are doing or have done, as if that will elevate them to the same status. But doing the same thing, treading the same path that others have already walked, that’s not how you become a leader.

A leader finds new aspects, new ways of doing things, new processes and improvements. A leader listens, hears what’s being said, takes in as much as they can, then has the courage to put forward their own opinion, their own strategies and views on what they see as a better way.

Thought leaders are precisely that — leaders in thought, in thinking of new things and seeing the world differently. The path to becoming one is to find your way, to open yourself up to the possibilities and translate those into better ways of working. Better ways of living.

We are the leaders

The fact is, no-one remembers the guy who invented the Zune or the iRiver. No one refers to the geniuses behind ‘Ping’ or ‘Diaspora’, because all of those things, while quite functional within their own right, came second to the market leaders of the time.

That’s not to say that winning is everything either, but originality, having the courage to put forward your ideas and opinions, is. If you’re just replicating ideas that have come before then you run the risk of being one of those cheap, dime-store rip-offs that are okay, but they’re most definitely not the real thing. You’re ‘Dolce and Banana’, you’re ‘Hike’.

It’s important that we, as leaders for the next generation, stand up, try new things, look to solve problems in more efficient, entertaining and more original ways.

Because we are the leaders. If not us, who’s going to do it? If not you, who else? You know your industry, your area of speciality as much as the next guy – more than the next guy after that. Why not put forward your ideas, your passions on the best way forward – your way, not what you read Zara is doing or what Richard Branson says.

Those are all lessons, things to absorb and take in, but the truly great ideas are an amalgamation of what you, personally, have experienced, what your inputs have been.

It takes courage to put yourself out there — because not everyone’s gonna’ agree with you. No one is universally supported, even the most brilliant minds have been faced with stringent opposition. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to form a company that collapsed. Richard Branson’s first venture virtually went broke.

But if you read what you can, make self-education and learning a priority, and you remain open to new perspectives, then there’s no reason you can’t come up with the next great idea. And here’s a fact – no one else sees things the way you do. No one else has the same inputs, the same background and experiences that have made you who you are. Your view cannot be replicated. It’s YOU.

The opportunity of the social era

More than any time in history, people have access to the means and mediums to share their thoughts and ideas. On anything. The connectivity and access of the connected era provides everyone with the platform to make their voice heard.

There’s more information available at our fingertips than previous generations were able to access to in their entire lifetimes, and you can find likeminded groups and communities, connect with influencers and thought leaders in whatever area piques your interest.

The opportunities to learn are endless, the capacity to explore your passions and become an identity within your own right. You can send a message to the highest, most revered leaders in your industry and there’s a chance they might hear you. And if they don’t, you can make others in the community hear you, you can build your profile and establish a presence within the communities of those people you’re seeking to connect with. Till they can’t ignore you anymore.

Yes, it takes work, you need to put in the time to showcase who you are, you need to have the courage to put yourself and your beliefs on the line. But the opportunity is there. You can be a leader for the next generation. So go do it.

More reading:

What it takes to be a thought leader today
Grow your influence by becoming a passionate connector of people
People don’t leave companies – they leave leaders!

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