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Thought leadership is harder than you think

So you want to be a thought leader?

You probably want to win the lottery, too.

sticking out

But what if I told you that you’ve already won a lottery, yet the prize wasn’t money? Instead, you’ve won a trust fund of experience and insight. Let’s call this secret wealth The Fund. Its wealth in expertise is unsurpassed and you can dispense it at any time while its coffers will only increase.

Look inside yourself for a minute. Deep inside you, an armory of information exists about a certain subject. Where is this hidden cache? You probably know where it is. You probably know the subject. The problem is, you probably don’t want to share it.

The Fund is tricky. Despite our desperate hopes, The Fund isn’t filled with Buffet bits or Branson blessings. It isn’t overflowing with four-hour financial fireworks or roaring ROI regalia. What The Fund has is your core self, the culmination of years of not only work experience but of life experience. It is everything that makes you, YOU. This essential self isn’t so easy to share. Putting yourself out there isn’t for everyone. It takes a special kind of “strong” that most people simply aren’t.

When I work with business pros who seek my help with their thought leadership content, many of them are surprised by my questions. You see, I’m a Psychologist by training, a systems administrator by profession, and a writer by soul. I know how to dig down deep in a person and how to morph that knowledge into shareable content. I also know the same old motivational drivel these managers want to share online is not from their Funds.

Leaders contact me to help them to become Internet (or just LinkedIn!) famous for a typical surface area like quality assurance, supply chain, or hiring. The problem: this kind of crap is already piled up high. It’s amazing these savvy biz mavens would try to enter a market that is already so saturated. Some of these requests I have to turn away because the wannabe thought leader isn’t willing to break open their Fund to share something truly unique yet universal to all humans. To become a true thought leader, one must accept the responsibility and more gravely, the vulnerability that comes with it. It sounds crass, but I’m doing these people a favor when I turn them down. They aren’t ready. Maybe they never will be, and that’s OK.

The people who assume leadership is about money and fame tend to make poor leaders. Leadership is service. Being a CEO is a paying job, but being a leader is a volunteer position. Money and fame might be a by-product of thought leadership, but it can never be the motivation for tapping into The Fund. A sincere desire to help must be the base of thought leadership. My best clients are the ones I have to convince to break open their Funds. These pillars of success know the gravity of what I’m proposing. They feel the responsibility to others that all great leaders feel.

So you want to be a thought leader? Are you ready? Here is a sample of questions I may ask you when we meet:

-What was the biggest lesson you took away from your youth? College?

-List some of your volunteer positions

-Tell me a story of when one of your little kid assumptions was shockingly crushed by real world facts (SPOILER WARNING: e.g., Santa Claus or income tax on your first paycheck.)

-If you could do your last job over again, what mistake would you avoid? What would have been the bad and good outcomes?

-You’re hosting a party. Someone starts up a conversation about a subject that makes your jaw clench in anger or annoyance. What is that subject and why? What do you do at the party?

After we get through some of the personality profile questions, we’d dive down deep and knock on the door of your Fund. Will you open it? Are you ready to recognize what is stored up in there? Are you ready to share the – at times embarrassing – parts of yourself that could help a person become a better employer, a better parent, a better friend or a better anything? Only you can answer these questions. It’s your trust Fund. No-one can spend it but you.


This post was also published on LinkedIn

Photo Credit: “New Guy” by Pascal on Flickr.