Back in the day, i wrote a snarky post for Copyblogger about why I don’t like the term “thought leadership.”
“Do we really need more Business Insider types telling us how the world works? Could we maybe hear from some people who don’t have the exact same CV, the same vocabulary, the same haircut, and the same sports jacket?“
I’ve been thinking about that idea for some months now — and about some other ways we might look at it.
First, some things that don’t suck
I get why people want to be “thought leaders.” In fact, I think it’s a smart impulse.
I’m a fan of rewarding intelligence and good communication.
Being known for the quality of your thinking is a pretty fantastic goal.
And I always endorse working to make yourself visible in the sea of same-ass content that floats across our timelines. When you make yourself the face and voice of a genuinely good idea, that’s great.
Stepping up as a “thought leader” also opens the possibility of bringing people together around shared values and priorities. Also very cool and worthwhile.
So here’s what I don’t love.
My problems with the term
My first problem is that setting yourself up as a “thought leader” implies the existence of a bunch of “thought followers” (or maybe “thought minions”), and that’s just not a healthy relationship.
Maybe that seems like a trivial point to you, but having seen people literally ask Tim Ferriss how often they should be taking a shit, I don’t think we need to encourage any more blind followers.
I’ve also found that most people manufacture “thought leadership” by trying to come up with an idea that’s completely original — which typically involves coming up with an idea that is also complete bullshit.
As I mentioned in the Copyblogger article, I’m not talking about technical innovation. That marches on no matter what we do.
I’m talking about people who have some fundamentally “new” insight about health, relationships, business, the environment, etc., that no one else in the world has ever come up with.
At best, you have something that’s not very effective. At worst, you slide into toxic guru territory.
Magic sparkle dust is always easier to market than reality. When the old idea gets stale, you just make up something new.
What I think is missing
I think a couple of tweaks could improve this whole “thought leadership” business.
- Less brain-in-a-jar, more human connection.
- Less arrogance, more humility.
- Less hierarchy, more community.
- Less emphasis on leadership, more emphasis on mentorship
That word mentor has been on my mind a lot lately, after spending time in my friend Marcella’s Mentoress Collective.
Vladimir Putin, for example, embodies the worst elements of what we call a leader.
Stacey Abrams, by contrast, embodies the best elements of a mentor. (When she’s not busy with her side hustle as President of Earth, of course.)
So why not … thought mentorship
As I was noodling on all of this, the phrase “thought mentorship” popped into my head.
It felt like an idea that could keep the good parts, but also make more room for connection and shared growth.
Like any good digital business owner, I Googled it to see if anyone else had been writing about the phrase. I also bopped over to Namecheap to see if the domain was available.
They weren’t, and it was.
The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to keep exploring it. A new phrase gives us the chance to take what works about the old idea and make something better.
Something more inclusive, less top-down, and more genuine.
It’s an idea I’d like to explore in the coming months, and see if it has the legs I think it does.
Support for your own thought mentorship
In the past few months, I’ve been configuring my business to support thought mentors who want to widen their circles.
Coming to the last quarter of the year, that will involve three main projects:
- My Maven course on building out your Content Flagship. This is a cohort-based course to create your own content hub, where your thought mentorship has a chance to shine.
- One-on-one coaching for entrepreneurs and freelancers, to help you find traction in your stuck spots and move forward efficiently.
- More comprehensive content marketing strategy consulting, working deep in your organization to get you a solid framework to build and share your message.
Lastly, I’ll also be giving a free workshop in late October on Thought Mentorship.
If you’re interested in any of these, make sure you’re signed up to get email updates from me. You can use the form right below the comments.
You’re also welcome to leave me a comment, and I can get back to you with more details. Or you can connect via LinkedIn.
Whichever way you’d like to get in touch, it would be great to connect!
Photo of two women meeting by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash
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