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Could YOU be a Thought Leader?
Seven Questions to Gauge Your Thoughtleading Potential
by Ken Lizotte


Has the time come to find out if you are (or could be) a “thought leader,” i.e., that expert of all experts to whom your target market turns to… every time. Maybe you’re a thought leader already and don’t know it. Or maybe you do know it, or suspect it, but could use some validation.

To some extent, we are all thought leaders on some level. If you’re an expert on anything at all (engineering, human resources, management, Chinese history, bartending, roofing), you are on the launch pad. The difference is that true thoughtleaders are experts who have made a commitment to optimize their expertise.

A Starbucks barista, for example, an expert at concocting venti-cinnamon-dolce-lattes to grande-lite-chai-tea-tall-doppio-half-soy-moccachinos doesn’t necessarily know any more than the barista who replaces her on the next shift. But if she wishes to become a thoughtleading barista, distinguishing herself from her co-workers, not to mention the thousands of other baristas out there at all the other Starbucks, she can embark upon a personal campaign to get herself there.

Understanding the principal characteristics of thoughtleaders helps. Often the only thing holding a would-be thoughtleader back are misconceptions about what a thoughtleader is/is not. Such misconceptions feed into the thoughtleader wannabe’s low self-image.

So take a moment to conduct the following “thoughtleading inventory” composed of seven questions designed to help you gauge your thoughtleading potential:

1. Are You an Entrepreneurial Personality?

Thoughtleading is all about trying something new, so the key to unleashing your entrepreneurial side will be significant. Think deeply, think creatively, develop interesting ideas, make a firm commit to breakthrough results. Set aside time each day to develop your thoughtleading self and stop telling yourself you don’t have that kind of time.

2. Do You Enjoy Finding Creative Solutions to Problems?

When you work with your clients, do you ever run up against a particularly vexing problem? Do you find yourself digging deeper for a solution or developing a new process for resolving a problem? Do you sometimes come up with a completely unexpected happy result?

If so, creativity is in your blood. Creativity is a prime ingredient in thoughtleading. By sharing individualized expressions of concepts that have been thought up and written about before, you can rightfully claim ownership of “creative” solutions. That puts you squarely in a thoughtleading frame of mind.

3. Are You Interested in Publishing Articles or a Book?

The question here is not whether you have published anything already but rather whether you have any interest in doing so. To achieve an expert’s edge, genuine thoughtleaders do this on a regular basis. It helps enormously here if you actually perceive personal benefits from writing, of course. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you must find the writing process enjoyable per se, but if you see value in the process, you’ll be on the right track.

4. Do You Have Any Interest in Speaking to Groups about Your Ideas?

Do you have any interest in public speaking? It’s OK to be afraid of this but you do have to commit to braving your fears. Though fear of public speaking might seem like a valid reason for not getting up and doing so, it is not. Push yourself to go and speak in public again and again, and you will, over time, scare your fears away! You’ll then improve dramatically as a speaker and reap the same kinds of rewards as with your writing.

5. Are You Passionate about Your Specialty?

This one’s pretty important. Why would you go through all the bother, sweat equity and so forth if you don’t really care about what you’re doing and advocating? Without passion, you’ll not likely to dig deep enough to learn all the many facets of your thoughtleading specialty. You’re also not likely to try hard to develop original new ideas because this will feel like too much work.

6. Are You Willing to Take Risks?

Entrepreneurial personalities have this one covered, so if you responded yes to question #1, you’re fine. The very essence of entrepreneurialism is risk taking, so entrepreneurs engage in it frequently. Since you can never be sure in what manner your ideas will be received, risk taking becomes a highly beneficial characteristic of thoughtleaders.

7. Do You Enjoy Musing about the Future?

Thoughtleaders are valuable to society and to their own businesses because they periodically muse about the future. The non-thoughtleader segment of the population (99% !) keeps day-to-day things humming without doing this. That leaves the other 1% to step back and consider where all of this is going, as well as how it do things differently (hopefully better) or maybe even not at all. The thoughtleader then lays out a possible scenario, tosses it on the table, and invites the world to take a look. That’s where the “leading” in thoughtleading comes in—trail blazing, breaking of new ground, opening minds.

This last characteristic can result in whole new ways of doing things, though just as frequently such musing falls flat. But whatever the result, it’s essential that such musing goes on.

Because if a thoughtleader (like you) isn’t going to do it … who will?


The Author

Ken Lizotte

Ken Lizotte CMC is Chief Imaginative Officer (CIO) of emerson consulting group inc. in Concord, which enables professional service firms to position themselves as “thoughtleaders.” This article is excerpted from his new book The Expert’s Edge: Become the Go-To Authority People Turn to Every Time (McGraw Hill).

He can be reached by visiting

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Copyright 2009 by Ken Lizotte. All rights reserved.

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