Thought leadership is a common buzzword in many workplaces, but there are many common misconceptions that hinder true thought leader success. Here are six of the most prevalent myths that permeate corporate culture and affect employees who want to be thought leaders in their respective industries.
1. You Need to Know it All
Don’t ever be afraid to admit you aren’t sure or have to check on the answer to a question. It is more important to be accurate than to spout false information because you are afraid to admit you don’t know. Always having an answer will actually stifle the collaborative process.
2. Every Thought Presented is Original
Thought leaders typically have an unusual approach to their profession, but they don’t make up everything they think, say and believe. The best thought leaders are those who stand on the shoulders of those who have come before and utilize this advantage to better see the landscape before them. You shouldn’t feel pressured to make every thought seem like your own. Take pride in presenting those who have influenced your journey.
3. Leaders Are Only at the Top
Leader is not another word for “executive,” but it is a term that stands on its own. Whether you are at the top of the totem pole or not, you can be a thought leader. Too many bottom-tier employees who have valuable things to share hold back because they don’t feel worthy of being a thought leader. This is a myth: thought leaders can be found anywhere and only having one leader as the face for your company can actually put the company in a tight spot if a mistake is made.
"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." - John Quincy Adams
4. You Must be an Extrovert
You don’t have to be outgoing to be a thought leader. Some of the best thought leaders in our history were introverted artistic types. Utilize your strengths and don’t feel pressured to be someone you’re not.
5. Present Content and Don’t Worry About Building Relationships
Professionals who want to be thought leaders can sometimes leave relationships hanging in the balance. Valuable content can help you build relationships, but those relationships aren't cultivated without intention and dedication. If you are rushing to produce content and self-promote, while failing to nurture relationships, then you are too self-absorbed to be a true thought leader. Thought leaders are really there to provide insight and help to their audience. If you are constantly self-promoting or ignoring the hard work of cultivating relationships, then you aren’t truly acting in the best interest of your audience and it will be apparent.
"Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership." - Colin Powell
6. Thought Leaders Must be Liked
Liability is not necessarily equivalent with powerful leadership. Certain stereotype violations, particularly successful women in high positions, sometimes achieve lower likability scores based on a perception or expectation held by the general public. Thought leaders need to strive for respect and trustworthiness instead. A leader needs to be a person who offers sound judgment and opinions that can be respected.
"A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus." - Martin Luther King Jr.