Denise Brosseau: Why become a thought leader? Career insurance

Thought leadership expert Denise Brosseau examines the benefits of promoting your ideas and making a difference.

In earlier posts, we explored what a thought leader is and how thought leadership is different from PR and marketing. Now you might be asking why you should make the journey from leader to thought leader. After all, there isn’t any research that I know of that proves that those that become thought leaders are always better paid or better off.

Yet what I have witnessed is that thought leadership is often the key that unlocks a whole new level of professional achievement as well as career and personal satisfaction.

If you’d like to increase your strategic visibility – by which I mean credibility and standing with the people who matter – then thought leadership is one of the easiest paths to achieve that. I’ve seen thought leaders become rainmakers who attract customers for their products, clients for their services, partners for their companies, followership for their blog, readership for their books and funders for projects they have underway.

Establishing yourself as a thought leader leads to exposure for your ideas both inside and outside your company – particularly with journalists, analysts, event organisers and conference hosts. It will give you access to people who can help you make things happen – leaders in your organisation or community, innovators in your profession or industry and/or researchers in government or regulatory circles.

As a recognised thought leader you will have the power to persuade, the status and authority to move things in a new direction and the clout to implement real progress and widespread innovation. People want to affiliate with those who are well-known and in the know. Thus thought leader status also can lead to invitations to join corporate boards, serve on government commissions and participate in industry-wide committees – all opportunities to raise your profile from the local to the national to the international stage.

Be known for making a difference

All that said, thought leadership is not about being known – it is about being known for making a difference. A thought leader is meant to be seen as a credible, reliable authority, an ‘honest broker’, someone whom others can safely look to for guidance, valuable insights and a plan for the future. That credibility is essentially based on trust. Trust that you will know (or will find) a way to do things better, cheaper, faster or more efficiently. Trust that you will help people solve their problems – those of their families and friends, their communities, companies, industries, nations and/or the world. Trust that you will take the risk to put your ideas and opinions forward, to speak out even when you might be wrong (and correct yourself when you are), to be a role model and set an example by your actions that others can follow or emulate.

What are the risks?

Yes, there are some risks – you will be in the spotlight, which means you may take some pretty painful arrows. But being in the spotlight can also bring about a promotion or a better job, an award or an unexpected accolade, your portrait on the front page of a national newspaper or a story in an industry magazine that engages your whole community to finally unite around the transformation you’ve been advocating. Undoubtedly, it will open a new door to an opportunity that you never thought was possible, including the chance to encourage and support others to become thought leaders in their own right.

For many, it may answer the deeper questions – why am I here, what is the meaning in my work, what will I leave behind? As your influence and platform grow, so will your opportunities to create a significant impact on a larger scale, to inspire and bring about meaningful change that can last long after you’re gone. As a thought leader, you will leave a lasting legacy – transformed teams, communities, industries, systems, governments or the world.

It’s not for everyone

Obviously, not everyone chooses to be a thought leader. Most follow the traditional career advice we were all taught was the path to success – put your head down, work hard and take the next steps, one by one, up the ladder. If you’re lucky, and I hope you are, this method will pay off for you with promotions, salary raises and job security.

But that’s not always the case, is it? What I’ve witnessed all too frequently (especially through the economic downturns that seem to follow one after another) is that if you take the traditional route, there often comes a point in time where things no longer go your way. Your champions retire or leave the company, your company is sold or merged or your industry moves in an entirely new direction. Technologies evolve, funding dries up or customers revise their preferences overnight. Your path to the next job, to a partnership position or to full tenure is blocked, your boss falls out of favor or your party drops out of power.

The result? That long sought-after career goal – the one you may have worked toward for years – may no longer be attainable or anywhere near as desirable.

The good news?

Thought leadership is the very best career insurance around!

As the best connected, most respected and the most highly valued people in their organisations, I’ve found that thought leaders are usually the last to find themselves without a role when things go awry. Their supporters and followers often become their allies – able to help them identify new paths forward after an unexpected company acquisition, reorganisation or downturn. Their wide network of connections, communities and constituencies makes them much more likely to find the next place to land without any significant difficulty.

Are you ready to be a thought leader? Visit my website for lots of helpful resources and to sign up for my newsletter or download the Thought Leadership Manifesto.


brosseauDenise Brosseau is CEO of Thought Leadership Lab, the author of Ready to Be a Thought Leader? (Wiley/Jossey-Bass) and a lecturer at the Stanford Business School. After an early career in the technology industry, Denise co-founded Springboard Enterprises, an accelerator program for women entrepreneurs that has led to more than $7 billion (£5 billion) in capital for 627 companies. She has been recognised by the White House as a Champion of Change.

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