Thought Leadership Isn’t Enough

Why being an ideal leader is more important.

IN THE EARLY 17TH CENTURY philosopher René Descartes’ famous “I think, therefore I am” statement and Issac Newton’s Principia Mathmatica ushered in the scientific age, or as it is also referred, the age of enlightenment. Ideas and thoughts were no longer the property of the church. Everyday humans could change their lives by the ideas they generated.

Today, we still live in that tradition. TED talks promise to send to its audiences “Ideas worth spreading”, the final run of a successful career is often referred to as “thought leadership” and just about anyone with a knack for writing and a good publicist can produce a book and be praised for their good ideas, even if they are dressed up ideas from others.

I love good ideas, don’t get me wrong. I spend a lot of time with clients in leadership coaching. Jacob Needleman in his book, The American Soul says, “materialism is a disease of the mind starved for good ideas”. Ideas are great. The have the power to fuel action that can result in transformation.

However, I think we’ve put too much responsibility on the idea and not enough on the behavior. Consider these common situations or phrases:

  • “Do as I say, not as I do.”
  • Leaders who talk a good line but don’t walk the talk,
  • People hiding behind words and avoiding the tough work of making those words real,
  • Politicians and social activists who in public preach one thing but in private do something quite different.

Thought-leaders should model their ideas and become ideal leaders. The phrase “its not what you say that matters it’s what you do”, has been around for generations. But today it’s used to criticize others and the meaning is lost for ourselves.

So, the next time you feel the pull to be the expert in your field, or offer advice to another ask yourself:

  • Am I being the ideal version of myself?
  • Am I telling others to “do as I do”.
  • If not, how can I be that person?
  • What would make you in this moment not just a great generator of ideas, but a great leader?

While the irony doesn’t escape me in writing this article of ideas, I will commit to be the best, ideal leader I can be, in every interaction and decision I make.

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“The hardest person you will ever have to lead is yourself.”

― Bill George