If you’ve been to the airport recently, you may have noticed that the boarding area for platinum, gold, silver and bronze “elite” passengers is quite crowded. Often, there are more folks with frequent flyer honors on the plane than without!
It seems that anyone who flies the friendly skies regularly can gain access to this club and the privileges that comes along with it. And ironically, the frequent flyer line at security was longer than the [ahem] standard flyer line last time I was at the airport. Time to revisit the qualifications for this designation?
In the same vein, it seems that anyone and everyone claims to be a thought leader these days. If you write enough blogs and tweets or shout loud enough from a podium, does that make you a true thought leader? With so many thought leaders in the crowd, the term has been diluted to the point where it is almost meaningless. Time to revisit the qualifications for this designation?
What is thought leadership?
It seems appropriate to offer a definition by a respected thought leader (of course) and fortunately SAP’s Michael Brenner has provided us with some valuable insight via his blog on Forbes.com What Is Thought Leadership? 5 Steps To Get It Right. Brenner offers his own definition “Thought Leadership is simply about becoming an authority on relevant topics by delivering the answers to the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience.”
As a self-proclaimed non-thought leader, I concur with Brenner’s definition but I believe that we need to further qualify what makes one an ‘authority’ on a particular topic. I’d like to add some further insight from Rebecca Lieb of the Altimeter Group from a Mashable blog on the topic of How to Identify a Wannabe Thought leader. ”Rather like achieving academic tenure,” says Lieb, “Thought leadership requires a continuum of wisdom, accomplishment, and a body of published work that stands the test of a degree of time.” So it seems- many people will work hard and earn a doctorate degree but not everyone will reach the elite status of academic tenure. Likewise, not all of us will become true thought leaders.
Who is a thought leader?
In conversation with a very intelligent, insightful colleague the other day- I suggested he get more involved in social media, specifically via blogging. His response- “I don’t write blogs because I’m not a thought leader.” I started to panic a bit because I DO write blogs but would never in a million years label myself as a “thought leader.” In fact, I have come to despise that word as it has been overused, abused, and confused by so many. Apparently I am not the only one who has reasons to hate thought leadership. And now I learn that it is also doing us the disservice of discouraging people from contributing to the conversation.
To my colleague’s point, we can not all be thought leaders. It is my opinion that only a fraction of the general population will rise to the level of truly great thought leaders like Seth Godin, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs to name a few. This is not to say that there isn’t a place for the rest of us to have a voice via social media and build our personal brands. There is plenty of room for everyone to share a perspective, influence opinions and address the biggest questions on the minds of our target audience (per Brenner’s definition). However, we do need to coin a new term ASAP and reserve Thought Leader for those who have truly affected change and inspired greatness throughout their lives and careers.
What about the frequent flyers?
As for the ever-growing club of platinum elite frequent flyers, I suggest that they campaign the airlines to establish a super exclusive titanium level with shorter lines, stronger cocktails and better seats – perhaps in the Pilot’s Cabin?