“Thought Leader” is the new cool set in the online business fraternity pushing aside the passé entrepreneur for a trendier tagline. I cringe a little every time someone introduces themselves as an entrepreneur – what is it you’re trying to say? You’re a risk taker carrying the can for yet another start-up venture? Entrepreneurialism is a quality not a title, you can’t be taught it, you either are one or you aren’t, it’s that simple.
So when you suggest you’re a “Thought Leader” what is it you bring to the table? Much the same as the entrepreneur I would presume but with things only at the idea stage? Google “Thought Leader” and there are plenty of people giving advice on how you can be one. This is paradoxical given you should, by definition, have an ability to think without the direct influence of others to qualify for this status.
When trying to put a name to thought leaders of our time its people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, John F Kennedy and John Lennon who spring to mind. I’m sure each had their fair share of advisors and mentors who filled in the grey areas of their speeches and lyrics; yet it’s the vision and conviction of the individual that gave a voice to once intangible concepts that in time influenced the way entire cultures thought and acted. It’s also tragic that all had a common fate due to this self belief.
In today’s instant information age we have lots of people telling us what we should to be doing. In an age of fans, followers and virtual friends the dedicated followers of fashion rush without hesitation to repeat the words of the chosen few, as long as it can fit the 140 character limitation bestowed upon us by Twitter.
It should make even the most relaxed amongst us a little nervous to know that the combined Twitter followers of Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears now exceed ten million people. That means there are 141 countries in the world who have smaller populations and only 82 that exceed it. “Oops, he did it again” gushed Britney, “Ashton just punk’d Europe”.
Social Media gives us the opportunity to connect with audiences like never before. Sure we need to nurture our tribe (Thanks Mr Godin) but we also need to build trust (thanks Mr Brogan). Conduct online conversation with the same values and etiquette as you would in the real world and remember to establish meaningful and ultimately profitable influence takes time (Thanks Mr Reality). Listen to what people say, do what you can when you can, and do the best you can with the time and resources you have available.
Don’t let the medium own you, it’s a tool and nothing more. Use it how you want to and forget what “they say” you should be doing. Fashion comes and it goes; if you want to be seen as a thought leader, be yourself. Your real friends and valued customers will respect and thank you for it eventually.