Thinking and Rethinking Thought Leadership

Did I Criticize A Useful Concept Unfairly Without Thinking? — Or — Many Thoughts I Have Been Thinking Since I Last Thought About Thought Leadership

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A thought leader’s brain scan

In a recent response I lashed out hard against the concept of thought leadership. Ironically, the response was written mostly from the gut and not the brain. I did not really think very deeply about the topic before writing the piece (linked below). Since then I have not been able to stop thinking about it, and about what I wrote, and have begun to question some of the positions I took. It could be that my great annoyance at one tiny part of the article I was responding too clouded my judgement, resulting in an unfair and unjustified attack on useful concept/term/thing (thought leadership).

It was the very first sentence in the article that annoyed me so greatly “I’m the CEO of Digital Press, a thought leadership agency for other founders and C-suite executives.” Read it out loud and then let it marinade in your brain for a bit. For me at least it was instantly irritating in so many irritating it is in so many ways. It has it all, the unspoken I’m definitely better than you cockiness, the bus-speak buzz words, the executive imprimatur, everything needed to guarantee pissing me off, distilled to perfection, and served up right out of the gate. Even with all that I might not have reacted so badly if it were not combined with one of the most cliche ridden banner photos of the young executive in action I have ever seen. There he sits in his pimped out ride driven by a chauffeur, wearing his perfectly tailored monogram sweater jacket, hipster haircut and facial hair perfectly coiffed, staring off into the distance deep in thought. No doubt thinking great leadership level thoughts for the day and planning all the thought leading still left to do tomorrow. Link below if you want to revel in the awesomeness and awfulness of it.

Suffice to stay it struck a chord with me and triggered a cascade of intense emotions including disgust and anger, and even a bit of jealousy. That feeling of jealousy made me even more angry and I berated myself severely for even entertaining for a second the notion that the scene pictured before me was one I should aspire to. Yuck.

In any case the article was dumb and basically consisted of Mr. Hipster Hair telling us that the reason he is so rich and successful is because he works constantly. People that work endless hours do not impress me in the slightest. In fact I typically find them to be time wasters who are poor time managers with weak organizational skills and a chronic inability to delegate. Many times this lack of ability to delegate stems from an inability or unwillingness to train others in the tasks where help is needed or could be used. None of these traits would be considered typical of “thought leaders”, or then again maybe they would. Who can say since no large or small scale study of any repute which described their shared characteristics has been published that I could find. This is yet another of the problems I have with the designation, it’s vagueness. The qualification(s) to be considered a thought leader seem to be only one, the fact that other people consider you one. Of course it helps if these “other’ people are thought leaders themselves. And the circle of thought leadership life is complete with each thought leader bestowing the divine title upon other people he or she knows that seem a lot like him or herself.

You know what? I retract that first paragraph. I was right the first time, thought leadership is a stupid concept with very little to nothing of value to add to the language other than another ego driven status indicator. Ban it.

Written by

Research scientist (Ph.D. micro/mol biology), Thought middle manager, Everyday junglist, Selecta (Ret.), Boulderer, Cat lover, Fish hater

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