Two Myths about Thought Leadership for Executives

From the “How to Become a Thought Leader Series”

by Pete Weissman, Founder, Thought Leader Communications

Myth #1: A big idea is enough to make you a thought leader.

Congratulations. You’ve got a transformative idea. It’s new. It’s bold.

It will disrupt your industry and usher in a new future – with you and your organization leading the way.

Before you celebrate, realize that big ideas are necessary for a thought leader – but not enough.

Without action behind it, an idea is just an assertion. Rhetoric.

Think of what you hear companies assert:

  • “We put our people first.”
  • “We’re a green company.”
  • “We’re committed to our communities.”

Most people’s reaction is: Prove it.

They’re skeptical. Leaders don’t earn much credibility these days. The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer [1] says:

“[A] ‘person like yourself,’ or an average employee, is far more trusted than a CEO or government official.” (Emphasis added)

Your big, disruptive idea must be paired with decisive action steps that prove your commitment.

  • An idea without action behind it is just rhetoric.
  • Action without a guiding idea is just random work.
  • But both together can be the foundation of thought leadership.

When real action reinforces your words, and people believe it, you win respect – which means you’ve won control. Right?

Myth #2: A thought leader controls the conversation.

Some executives believe the right big idea can stop dissent in its tracks. The media will fawn, former adversaries will rally to your side, and – Bob’s your uncle – you’re a visionary thought leader.

Not so fast.

You can’t control the dialogue.

More importantly, you shouldn’t try to.

The pushback you get – from those you’re disrupting, from the defenders of the status quo – actually elevates your stature.

Let me say that again another way:

  • When you trade big ideas in the public square, there’s bound to be conflict.
  • Controversy can spark media coverage.
  • That coverage can help “crown“ you as the leader and spokesperson for “your side” of the argument.

It goes back to something I learned studying journalism in college.

Fair, objective news organizations need to include both sides of an issue. That means someone is going to be quoted as the voice of one side and someone else (hopefully you) will be quoted as the voice of the other.

In any publication (trade, mass or elite), this effectively designates you as the champion of your cause. You look stronger and more persuasive when you’re winning an exchange than when you attempt control.


  • Your bold idea is just the start of becoming a thought leader.
  • Pair your idea with decisive, newsworthy action steps to make you and your organization credible leaders of a new way forward.
  • Don’t fear the conflict that taking a strong stand may spark. Harness the ensuing news coverage to stake your claim as the leading voice for your side of the argument.

Want help thinking through your action steps? Please drop me a line.



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