When you hear the term “thought leader” what comes to mind?

Impact? Influence? Difference Making?

Since I was a little kid, I have been fascinated by parrots. Whenever I am in a pet store or other place where they are on display, I earnestly try to get them to say something. (My wife gives me looks because I often make a scene by doing this way too loudly, speaking in my parrot accent. I will cause a disturbance to people within a large radius.) I have often wondered if you could get a parrot to say a word or phrase really well (and he liked saying the phrase often), if you could take him to the parrot house at the zoo where a there were a bunch of other parrots, if he would impact them. I wonder if he could get all of the other parrots saying the same thing. Could it be like the mockingjays in The Hunger Games, but you could get them to say cooler stuff?

If that could happen, it would be a lot like what we see on Facebook and LinkedIn and other forms of social media today.  It can get as noisy as the parrot house!

You know how it goes, a bunch of people like something, then other people like it, and so on and so on like the Faberge Organics commercial of yesteryear (Google it). Then other people see that you liked it, then it gets liked even more, and can even go viral or even just semi-viral, which gets kind of exciting. (To think that only twenty years ago something going viral was not a very good thing at all! And if it does go semi-viral, what is it that actually happened?)

The point is, we have a very valuable distinction we can make here.

Thought Parroting vs. Thought Leadership

Thought Parroting = The validation of other peoples’ thought leadership. Hit the “Like” button. Could be helpful. You could earn a few points here. Might get you a thank you or two. The act passes thoughts on. This type of social media builds the thought leadership and influence of the originator. Although we can be a validator of truth in an “I didn’t think of this, but it’s true, just sayin’” kind of way. Many people hammer out “likes” and “shares” all day long. I even appreciate some of these (particularly ones with puppies or dudes crashing their skateboards) but I wonder, if we are just liking or sharing, are we thought parroting rather than doing thought leadership? This is especially true when all of what we like or send is other peoples’ work and things which they have said.

Thought Leadership  adds greater value. Sure it can start with a like, but is followed with a comment which frames what is liked or shared in a particular context. If it can be done powerfully, then all the better! This will impact your world. When the posting tool allows us to “say something about this,” I think we should. It will get more people to pay attention. It will gain the interest of the people who we are connected with and have more people click further.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that we must always leave a comment or introduce  your “share”. It just seems to me that, particularly on LinkedIn, where we are trying to grow our thought leadership and expand our influence and our businesses, we need to bring more thinking to the table. The comments and shares which we post are the most important things we do on LinkedIn. They are way more important than what our profile says, because no one sees our profiles if there is not some level of interest which leads them there.

When we are in thought leader mode, we go through the following process:

1. We Read. Absorb what someone who knows what they are talking about thinks. Choose Wisely.

2. We Think. Process what our knowledge and experience suggest to us.

3. We Write.  Read it over and make sure that it clearly states what we think.portdolio10

4. We Share. Hit the share button, or share it in the meeting we are in.

Truth, connected in a context which is relevant, adds value and impacts attitudes, thus behaviors. A couple of ideas to make social media posts interesting and relevant:

  • Add to what was said.
  • Comment on what type of person might find this valuable.
  • Echo a point that really resonates with you.
  • Connect to some fact or research.
  • Create interest to get people to actually click through and read or watch.
  • Connect with some other thought or idea (add insight).

Ways to Improve your Thought Leadership and Influence—On and Off the Internet:

1.  READ! Leaders are readers. People who don’t read on a regular basis are starving their brains. Be picky about what you read. Carefully consider the topic you would like to expand  your knowledge on and research your options. Schedule time each day to read. Explore audiobooks. (My list of “20 Books that Should be on Every Leader’s Shelf” can be downloaded for free at www.theimpactfoundry.com/resources/)

2.  Get better at thinking. Make time for it. Find a quiet place to soak in and better prepare your thoughts. Thought thinking comes before thought leadership.

    • Consider what you have read (Highlight and make notes)
    • Process your experience (Learn from ups and downs)
    • Reflect (How is what I’m thinking relevant?)
    • Process (What should I do?)
    • Develop actions (What am I committing to do?)

3.   Work on your empathy

  • WIIFM?  “What’s in it for me?” is our natural default. This is not empathic.
  • WIIFO?  “What’s in it for Others?” is the question we ask when we are connecting something relevant for others. It takes high emotional intelligence. That is empathic thinking.

4.    Get better at delivering your thoughts. Work at becoming more clear and concise, but be enthusiastic and be interesting. (Think about taking a Dale Carnegie Course.)

5.     Listen to the ideas of others. Be curious, ask questions. Learn from them.

6.    Collaborate!  Be thought leaders with others.

I still love parrots. I will always love parrots. I will always try to get them to say stuff (Sorry, Honey!) I will always click on the funny dog videos. Always. And I will occasionally share them. (We all need funny dog videos.) My hope is that social media sounds a little less like the parrot house and more like a thoughtful interchange of ideas, best practices, topics to move our thinking forward—more toward thought leadership.


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