A life-altering experience happened to me sometimes back when I went to visit a friend. They began to take me through a journey of setting me free from the strong convictions that were holding me back.
For most of my life, I have always prided myself in exclusivity or pioneering. What this means is that I was always the one who took the first step towards a new development in personal, career, and even spiritual development, among my circles.
Whenever I wasn’t the first, I would stay away from that development, sometimes find fault in it, or quickly find a higher development that would keep me at the forefront once again.
As ugly as this sounds as I explain it now, it was a very beautiful thing everyone admired. I knew it was ugly and worth changing but I also knew how to keep it so pent up and admirable.
Unfortunately, I chose and stuck with the latter.
Firstly, how did this start?
I seriously can’t tell but I know it’s a mixture of low self-esteem, pride, and competitive heart I had.
I typically competed for everything, including who crossed the road first among my friends. Again, all this was hidden in a beautiful facade that was admirable.
Along my journey, I heard of the term “thought leadership” and I loved it. I mixed this low self-esteem and competitive heart with thought leadership and kept on avoiding everything I didn’t pioneer.
I hated fashion styles that everyone had adopted because I couldn’t just subscribe to the fact that I was joining what was already taking place— something I didn’t start, and many other weird hatreds of that nature.
I guess everyone knew there was something wrong with my approach and convictions but since it was neatly packed, they couldn’t identify what exactly was wrong. Back to my visit to my friend.
Wherever they got that courage from, maybe because they were my best friend, they dug into my heart and made me see how foolish what I was holding onto was
I was broken and had to redefine thought leadership to myself. Unlike what I was doing, thought leadership doesn’t detest existing thoughts.
What Does Thought Leadership Entail?
Leadership in itself requires that you influence people from where they are to where you want to take them to; the influence doesn’t happen from where you are.
Like my mentor, Dr. Myles Munroe will say, a leader must always be ahead of the people but never out of sight.
Being a thought leader that will continually be a thought leader doesn’t mean you should run away from the thought patterns that exist. You should instead, be part of the current school of thought, to understand them.
That way, you can find the loopholes and limitations they have and start something new from there. Innovation isn’t always something new. Sometimes, it’s a modification of what exists already.
But how can you modify what you don’t understand? If you continually stay away from the system that exists, surely you will find new ideas but soon, you will reach a point I call “thinker’s block,” a point I have reached in my adulterated thought leadership.
What Is The Thinkers Block?
The thinker’s block doesn’t mean you’re out of ideas; it means you are out of applicable ideas. Your findings will be so alien to everyone else and sometimes even yourself, that you would no longer be a thought leader.
You would just be a thinker.
Just like every leader, a thought leader should have followers and as I said, your thought leadership must be able to carry them along from where they are to where you are taking them to.
If you don’t understand the intricacy of their thoughts, you wouldn’t be able to map out a link that will take them to the thoughts you have found, even though you have the ability they don’t have to come up with something new.
Also, like every other leader, it seems that to be a thought leader one must first be a thought follower. The thinker’s block happens when your new thoughts are whole but disjointed from what you are seeking to modify.
Just like with the writer’s block where the writer can no longer connect the next part of the story with what exists, your thoughts no longer become progressive because you can no longer relate with the bearing on which the new thoughts are built.
A more healthy approach I have found to thought leadership from my experience and several learnings I’ve had is that to keep your thoughts leadership both effective and balanced, you should consider the following:
How To Be A Healthy And Effective Thought Leader Worth Following
1. Be open to change
If truly you want to be a thought leader, you should be open to what’s best in all, not just what is best for you.
If you limit your ideologies to only what applies to you, you would soon lose your followers because humans are only loyal to themselves— no one is loyal to you.
You must therefore be at the forefront to embrace higher information even if you weren’t the one who discovered it.
When your followers are aware that you will adopt the best choice at all times, even when it isn’t your choice, they will trust your leadership and commit to following you.
What I discovered from my experience was that certain followers of my thought leadership could identify some lapses or incomprehensiveness in my idea set, and that gave them the doorway to leave my thought leadership for something else.
While you aren’t to keep everyone subjected to you ( people are free to follow whoever they like), you must be open enough to embrace holistic ideas, not just your ideas for the benefit of those who trust your leadership enough.
2. Don’t attach your person to your idea
Attaching your person to your idea is very risky; it would negatively affect both you, your leadership, and your followers.
To attach your person to your idea means you treat any rejection of your idea as a rejection of your person. You see those who do not follow your thought leadership as enemies or rebels.
Also, attaching your person to your idea set will stop you from being open to change. You will have several ego-stinging moments whenever you discover an idea that is different from or worse, opposing yours.
As simple and harmless as it may seem, attaching yourself to your idea set can be the root of bitterness, enmity, and unhealthy competition that will stop you from accepting holistic ideas.
But how in the world can I leave what I always believed? Just leave it— it is not you; you have to move on to something better.
If you would look at your thought leadership as a service for the benefit of your followers, it would be a lot easier to follow these guidelines because you would want what’s best for them.
3. Understand you can’t be the only leader
This is a trap many thought leaders fall into. Because you are mostly a leader in the circles you find yourself in, you might be tempted to believe you should always be the leader.
However, this is not true.
As you move on in life and as your followers move on too, you both will find several other thought leaders. Be open enough to accept them. Don’t compete with them.
Like I said, wanting what’s best will allow you to open yourself to these other leaders so you could be a better leader yourself.
Counterintuitively, adopting the viewpoint of other thought leaders (because you aren’t competing), will make you a better leader because you are not just providing your followers with your viewpoint.
Since you are covering the mindset of other leaders, your followers will feel more well-fed around you. You can’t be the only thought leader even if your industry is a very small one, so don’t try to be the only thought leader.
In fact, some of your followers will grow to become thought leaders themselves. Support them, see that as progress to your work rather than a threat.
Related: The Principles and Power of Mentorship and Succession by Dr. Myles Munroe
The goal is to help more people, not to make a name for yourself. What greater name can be made than being someone who is rootlessly committed to the growth of others?
4. Honestly admit your shortcomings
As much as you want to be thorough, holistic, and ahead in your thought leadership, you must admit that you aren’t all that yet: nobody is!
Seeing thought leadership as leading people into something you are entering into yourself and not calling them to where you are already will help you in this. (Ali Abdaal calls it seeing yourself as a guide rather than a guru).
It means you will make mistakes on your journey, you will have wrong beliefs, you will make wrong conclusions which they might or might not be aware of.
It is normal and you should not beat yourself up for that. If you have truly separated your ideas from yourself, this will be easy to do.
When necessary, fully communicate your shortfalls to your followers and let them know how you have discovered something better and are subscribing to it.
Even if you discover that what is best is directly opposite to what you believed in the past, being an effective thought leader demands that you don’t hesitate to choose the right way.
5. Don’t force followers or hate non-followers
Remember you aren’t the only thought leader and you are not in the competition with any other leader. Your followers also are free to follow you and are free to stop following you to follow someone else.
This doesn’t mean your leadership isn’t effective, except in some cases. It is natural for humans to change. The followers can decide not to follow anyone at all.
You shouldn’t be possessive of your followers and don’t demand that they remain loyal to you. Compulsive followership is a sign that there’s no leadership.
Again my mentor, Dr. Myles Munroe, gave the most definitive definition of leadership I’ve seen so far:
“Leadership is the capacity to influence others through inspiration motivated by passion, generated by a vision, produced by conviction ignited by purpose.”
What I’ll be highlighting here is that leadership influences through inspiration. People are inspired to follow you, not forced. Compulsion is not leadership, it is tyranny.
6. Leave your comfort zone
The strongest thought I’d like to lead through this article is that thought leadership is thought service. You aren’t thinking for yourself.
Now, even if you are thinking for yourself, you need to leave your comfort zone to grow. This becomes even more important if you’re leading others (actually, serving others) to growth.
You need to steer clear of your comfort zone, as far as possible. Leaving your comfort zone will require that you test idea sets that you wouldn’t naturally do, even ones you know to be faulty so you could give first-hand experience to your followers.
I learned this lesson the hard way but since I adopted these six adjustments, thought leadership has become fun and not the brutal grind it used to be before.
Olusegun Iyejare is a career coach and certified counselor. He helps individuals discover and maximize their potential to live satisfying lives regardless of obvious limitations holding them back.