Are you a thought leader? A thought follower?
What a weekend! The weather started to warm up. The Redwings secured a spot in the play-offs. The Detroit Tigers cooled off the red-hot Atlanta Braves. And the Lions planted the seeds of hope during the 2013 NFL Draft.
And, oops… almost forgot… my youngest daughter graduated from college on Saturday. (Luckily, my wife isn’t in the school biz and won’t be reading this. I’d catch the dickens for not making this the lead item in the first paragraph.)
But the recognition of my daughter’s accomplishment – and the accomplishments of all of our proud grads – called my attention to a new label.
This label is “thought leader” and over the last 72 hours, I must’ve seen or heard it used six or seven times. It was used in the introductions of various commencement speakers, on a poster promoting a table full of books, and even by an earnest NFL Draft analyst who said that player so-and-so would be a positive “thought leader” in the locker room.
Thought leader. What does this mean? Do you know?
If you’re not one, does that mean that you are a “thought follower?” (And I sure hope this is not another “blue state – red state” kind of thing!)
I’ll admit I’m wary about anyone confidently wearing the “thought leader” label. This is too much like the colleague who serves with you on a committee and announces that he or she is an “idea person.” Oh brother. Better get ready to do extra work. Give me a “door to door person” or “I’ll make the phone calls person” any day.
How did the words “thought” and “leader” ever get jammed together in the first place? I wonder. My fear is that this label was hoisted on us by someone like me; someone who’s not all that great at either one.
A good thought has to be able to stand up to the scrutiny of good thinking by others. A good leader has to be able to inspire courage and action for the right cause. It seems to me that anyone who has been tagged as a contemporary “thought leader” has taken a shortcut somehow. (Or perhaps has been given one…)
I know I’m probably not being fair. Of course, when you factor in a fuller profile of in-the-trenches experience, maturity, creative capacity, and wisdom obtained from both hands-on successes and failures, there are lots of people out there who probably deserve our respect as “thought leaders.”
But I still have nagging doubts. My list of 10 “Thought Influencers” seems more plausible. And no, “thought leaders” are not on it.
• Thought Direction Setters (superintendents, bosses, organizational leaders…)
• Thought Predictors (philosophers, historians, futurists…)
• Thought Sparkers (artists, musicians, talk show hosts…)
• Thought Shapers (parents, educators, religious leaders, TV & video game makers…)
• Thought Spotlighters (reporters, columnists, 60 Minutes…)
• Thought Motivators (coaches, cheerleaders, encouragers, grandparents…)
• Thought Deflators (spoil sports, complainers, budget realists, reality shows…)
• Thought Mandators (the “do what we say, but it doesn’t apply to us” rule makers…)
• Thought Nurturers (the “we’ll work hard and play fair” rule followers…)
• Thought Connectors (us! school communicator types, marketers, designers…)
Once again, I’m counting on you to make the list better. There are omissions and overlaps, I know. Certainly, everyone deserves their own special category – be they architects, bakers, your neighbors, retail clerks, or physicians.
The descriptor “thought leader” – particularly if it’s self-promoted – shouldn’t accord anyone a special status. We should wait and see if the words “meaningful” and “good” are also accurate descriptors.
But I’m betting that school leaders and communicators already knew this.
And you didn’t even need my list. (Which took me the last 72 hours to think up! Dang it!)