Firstly, what is thought leadership?
The business world is abuzz with the different meanings of the word leader. Traditional meanings of the word meant those at the top of the hierarchy. Those who set the vision and direction for the rest of us.
As Agile ways of working spread across the working world and digital and knowledge work require decisions to be made quickly at the point of value creation, the idea that we can all be leaders has taken hold.
When we add the word ‘thought’ in front of leader, it takes on another meaning. The concept of thought leadership has come under much criticism and support in the last 20 years. The term was first coined in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, who said:
“A thought leader is recognized by peers, customers and industry experts as someone who deeply understands the business they are in, the needs of their customers and the broader marketplace in which they operate. They have distinctively original ideas, unique points of view and new insights.”Joel Kurtzman
This sounds great. We need people with new ideas and unique points of view. People who can originate innovative solutions to the challenges we face.
So why has the phrase ‘Thought Leader’ come under so much criticism.
Unfortunately, many so-called ‘Thought Leader’ publications turn out to be thinly veiled marketing material. They sell sub-standard materials that are barely thought out and offer little in the way of practical real-life solutions. Many case studies are overblown and simplistic. The ego desire to be a thought leader and be recognised as such is often greater than the desire to put in the work and genuinely innovate something new and useful.
A quick search on Google on Thought Leadership Criticism provides plenty of articles that provide examples of companies producing low-quality content in the guise of thought-leadership. They are looking to build a reputation in their market but sadly doing the opposite.
True Thought Leadership is hard to do.
A similar critique of the word ‘Entrepreneur’ comes to mind. Since this word too, has been used so laxly when describing say, the Product Owner role. Many POs are described as entrepreneurs when really, they are little more than order takers who are on a paid salary that involves no risk to themselves or their money. This is not what was intended for this role.
What is true Thought Leadership?
True entrepreneurism is where the entrepreneur puts a piece of themselves into the product. It is their reputation and risk on the line. It is their job to make it work. They certainly will rely on others, but the buck stops with them.
Entrepreneurism and Thought Leadership are entwined. It is hard to imagine someone who is amazing at one of these without a little of the other.
Thought Leadership is a choice. It is a set of skills and experience that must be mastered.
Just like being an entrepreneur, there are both external skills that must be learned and mastered, and internal skills that challenge our emotional states and require us to question what we believe about ourselves and the world around us.
The world does not need more amazing orators with no experience or useful content. We do not need more leaders who don’t understand the day-to-day lives of customers and staff.
What we do need, is a new generation of Thought Leaders. We need those who not only have the oration and presentation skills but have the content and experience that they have invested in themselves. Their offering is a part of who they are and what they have done. We need Thought Leaders who really do want to make a difference and who can influence the world in which we live for the better.
Providing a pathway for you
I have been an Entrepreneur and Thought Leader in this manner for the last 20 years. I’ve genuinely tried to make a difference and poured what I have learned both internally as a shift in consciousness and externally through techniques, models, and experience into changing the world of work.
I founded AWA to provide support, training and coaching to those who want to make a difference to the way we do business and show up to work. We continue to provide valuable, free, quality content, including articles, videos, webinars and in-person Meetups. Together with our world-renowned training, AWA Global supports you in your agile journey.
You might also be interested in this article with thoughts from our agile community. In it they share what they wish they’d known when they started agile coaching and there are a few surprises!