There was not as much backlash as I had anticipated. I was expecting a much stronger reaction from the leadership community where I hang out most of the time. There are many who do not look upon this as being “real” leadership. But, there are many that do.
And all of that prompts a question. “Can you be a thought leader?”
Can You Be a Thought Leader?
The question itself almost indicates that being a thought leader is something that we should seek after. And if it is, can you become one?
Just like some basic leadership skills that can be developed over time, basic thought leadership skills can be developed as well. Having said that, everyone can become a thought leader to some degree.
Thought leadership takes time (it takes a lot of time), it takes knowledge, and it takes a recognized expertise in a particular field or endeavor. Further, it takes a certain level of confidence in your own ability, a commitment to pursue excellence, and a willingness to go against the grain or to challenge the way things have always been done.
One of the challenges that exists today in many organizations is the creation and staffing of “Centers of Excellence.” More often than not these are staffed with young, talented folks who have lots of potential. They may even have advanced degrees that were tucked on immediately to their undergraduate work. Their degrees are impressive. So, let’s make them “thought leaders” and put them in a COE.
Centers of Excellence
I will try very hard not to offend any of my readers at this point. But, herein lies the problem. Most of these folks haven’t actually “become” excellent in anything yet. They have no real world experience. All of their experience up to this point is academic. They have not placed any of their ideas (or thoughts) into the marketplace to see if they will actually work.
Does that mean that they cannot contribute to an organization? Of course not! We need the best and the brightest from the great institutions of higher learning to join us in our organizations. Many of them are incredibly brilliant and they have great potential.
But are they “leaders” in the sense of the word that you and I would agree upon? I don’t think so. I would call them Brave Thinkers. Many of them have grown up in an environment where they have never faced any real criticism and there was an expectation on their part that everything they did was great and worthy of a trophy. And in that sense, they have become brave thinkers who are full of ideas and they are not afraid to express them and give them a try. Our goal is to work with them and harness that enthusiasm and energy and get them real world experience so that they can some day be in a Center of Excellence and be a Thought Leader who has had great thoughts and ideas and whose thoughts and ideas have been translated into significant growth or wins for the organization.
So, is a Thought Leader a real leader?
That was, after all, my original question. My opinion is that it can be. But it is not necessarily so. By that I mean if a Thought Leader generates thoughts and ideas out of a wealth of experience and success in a certain area, then they are a real leader because they are leading from the “front” so to speak. They are leading with their experience and not just their potential.
Leadership has many facets and flavors. And I think there is much more that could be said or written about Thought Leadership as a form of real leadership.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Are you a “Thought Leader” or a “Brave Thinker?”