What Makes A Thought Leader (Part 1)

Far from being an out of reach, elusive, glittery-guru status (complete with instant abs, better skin and waaay more money), the path to becoming a thought leader in your industry is actually less cluttered with obstacles than you think.

The main requirement, of course, for being a thought leader is that you think.  

Yup. Good old grey matter engaged and all that. We will come to that part later on in this series.

Surprisingly enough, the rest is not only attainable, but entirely possible for mere mortals just like you and I.

So how come it usually feels like a mountainous journey for the select few?

Well, let's take a look at what leading in thought really entails, to see where obstacles, dragons, and mythical creatures arise, to see where the fairytale appears to be reserved for the cool kids. We will discover along the way that mindset is your biggest demon and that you already have enough to add to the mix to be Someone Who Knows Stuff.

I promise you.

Understand that everything is a remix

This basic premise is so often overlooked.

Of course, there is innovation, there are breakthrough ideas, discoveries, landmark tomes and journals. 

But in academia, fashion, music, film - and, well, most things in life -  (including the 90's-meets-tweens dungarees I write to you in right now), everything is a remix. 

The great fashion designers don't create in a vortex of originality. Far from it.

Instead, they curate trends, influences, inspiration and references to form their own statement pieces which go on to shape how and what we wear.

Designers and design thinkers of all genres are cultural synthesisers, making sense of the zeitgeist, market trends, future trends, present fears, cheers, and artisan beers to present an aesthetic that sells.

We are in a constant status quo of borrowing from the past, creating the future, and commenting on the present.

Whatever the medium - this blog, an academic journal, a DJ re-mix, a social media promo graphic, a meme, you name it - we add to the conversation of all that has gone before, and all that is coming ahead.

Research for the next book. Will read most of these by the end of the month and then start writing in the spring.

A photo posted by Mark Manson (@markmansonnet) on

Whether it's Alexander McQueen re-imagining regency romantic costumes, Bowie creating timeless alter egos and acting as an echo chamber of his time, journalism that frames a snapshot of a time and space from one perspective, or an entrepreneur sharing their business and how they are growing it, it's all about having a voice and putting it out there with your flavour to it.

There would be no Tony Robbins without Jim Rohn, no Lady Gaga without Queen Madge, no you without - well, who? Who inspires and influences you?


Image via Metmuseum

Image via Metmuseum

So what does that mean for the aspiring thought leader?

Simply, that you only have to build on what is out there already, what we can predict is coming, and what YOUR take on it is.

And that's it.

You are adding to the conversation (hat tip to Denise Duffield Thomas) :

“I’m a contributor, not a guru. As soon as I gave myself permission to contribute to the conversation of women and money, and not have to be a guru or expert, then my business became fun. If you really care about a topic, be a contributor. Who cares if you don’t know everything. You don’t have to be the best to make a difference to someone.”

The fear of having to know everything and be THE source of reference can be paralysing for many.  

But, we all add to a conversation that evolves, grows, changes and alters constantly.
We just need to add OUR voice and thoughts to the big whiteboard of conversations out there.

Nothing exists in a vacuum.

Authors, artists and influencers (well, those with integrity and substance), reference those whose thoughts they build on, whose shoulders they stand on and whose work they champion with their own take, along with the personal narrative that brings their own, unique perspective.

Is Tim Ferris the first guy to talk about outsourcing, life hacking, or productivity? Nope. But he does it with his own inimitable style. 

Is Gabby Bernstein the first teacher to share A Course In Miracles? Hell no. But she is epic and her way of sharing it is her own.

Is Marie Forleo the only person to talk about starting an online business? Errrrr, nope. But the people who flock to her love her vibe. And those that don't? Well hey, they are served by other peeps. 

Plus, and this is ALWAYS good to remember, everyone starts somewhere. Everyone had a terrible website at some point, (just check out Wayback Machine to see some of your faves before they were infamous). Everyone grows, everyone learns, improves, adapts. And so will you.

Well, now we know you don't have to re-invent the preverbal wheel, let's break down some more barriers to thought leadership in Part 2, where we will look at that old adage, "Who am I to say anything on this?".

Stay tuned, and believe in your dreams.

Jo xox