You’re a Thought Leader and We Need Your Leadership


leader_standout_Image credit- johnkwan : 123RF Stock Photo

One of the cool things about modern discussions of leadership is that we now recognize that “leadership” is available to everyone, at every level of every kind of organization – or no organization at all. Anyone can lead and can even start a movement, simply by influencing the person next to them to influence someone else. We believe that to lead is to make an impact on the world around you. And anyone can do this. The patriarchal stereotype of leader-as-king-with-army is making room for the reality of idea-gal-with-smartphone.

But there’s a difference between influencing the person next to you and “leading.” What is it?

I believe that much of the power of influential leadership lies more specifically in thought leadership, but not as we’ve traditionally defined it.

Traditionally, thought leaders have been authors, researchers and industry trend makers. You know, people with public relations firms in their stables. Think of Mark Benioff, CEO of, and his decade+ championing of what’s now called cloud computing. Or Tom Peters. These idea-guys manage to get above the fray of an entire section of the economy, see a trend, articulate it and influence others by applying their ideas widely and diligently. Hip hip for them! They are surely thought leaders and thank goodness they are, because that is how revolutions in thinking are made.

But we can all think. We can all see things that others don’t. We can all share our views and opinions with those around us to influence their perspectives and actions, and most of us do share our thoughts.

The power of thought leadership isn’t about ideas, it’s about standing by them.

When do our ideas shift from opinions, to influence, to leadership?

Watching how thought leadership has shaped my own career – inside and outside corporate structures – and helping clients build their personal brands as change agents and leaders, I notice that the power of thought leadership isn’t about ideas, it’s about standing by them.

Everyone can throw out an opinion, but thought leaders have an underlying rationale beneath their opinions. Thought leaders lead by doing the thinking others won’t, don’t or can’t, and they stand by that thinking on behalf of all those others. They take the trouble to know the facts and what they believe is true about the facts (which are not always the same thing). This gives their ideas depth, makes them adaptable in various contexts and makes them worthy of deeper exploration and evolution. Thought leaders take the risk to advocate for things that are unpopular in order to shift the discussion and reframe the problem. They take the heat so the idea gets its day in the sun.

Thought leaders don’t always “win,” but when gracious in “defeat,” they usually get invited into the next discussion of import. (This is how they’re influential; they’re always invited to the important parties.) They know that they and their ideas are not the same and don’t take the debate over their ideas personally. Over time they catch the attention of executive sponsors and when they demonstrate their ability to deliver results as well, they attract sponsors and are promoted.

Thought leaders take the risk to advocate for things that are unpopular in order to shift the discussion and reframe the problem. They take the heat so the idea gets its day in the sun.

If you have ideas and opinions, be honest with yourself, are you taking advantage of the opportunity to go to the next level with them? Are you doing the thinking others won’t, don’t or can’t? Are you standing for them? Are you building a reputation as someone who will stand for ideas to shift the debate where it needs to go? Are you leading with your ideas, or just tossing them out off the top of your head?

You’re invited: I believe the world needs more good ideas and leaders willing to stand by them. Join me for a complimentary webinar on how to build your personal brand with thought leadership, in social media and other venues. We’re offering separate sessions for entrepreneurs and corporate leaders so please choose the one most appropriate for you.


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Image credit- johnkwan / 123RF Stock Photo

Executive Coach, women's leadership advocate & founder of, Dana cracks the code on personal power to help women and men forge their leadership identity & mindset. Follow her at,,, and @DanaTheus on Twitter

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  • Craig Badings

    Hi Dana very interesting perspective: “the power of thought leadership isn’t about ideas, it’s about standing by them.” But I’d have to disagree.

    Thought leadership is first and foremost about influence – the ability to crack people’s mental myopia on a topic or issue and make them see things differently. In other words its about titillating the curiosity gap and then stimulating it to make them see things differently, to filter things about that issue and they way they think about it along the lines you are positing. It doesn’t matter how much you stand by your idea, if it’s not doing this it’s not thought leadership. Thought leadership needs followers and if you don’t have them you can’t be perceived as a thought leader no matter how much you stand by your idea.

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