“Hurry up!” I whispered to my husband. “They’re about to start!”
We were going to one of those dinners that’s really a sales pitch for something, and I didn’t want to miss a single delicious — I mean, fascinating moment.
I was doing well enough until I heard the MC:
“And now, here is James Eversold, who is a real thought leader in this field.”
My husband leaned over to me and asked, “What on earth is a ‘thought leader’?”
“I was just going to ask you that,” I whispered back. “Someone who leads thoughts, I guess.”
I paused. “But how do they know? How could they measure thought-leadership, anyway?”
“In liters, of course.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I said. But it made as much sense as the idea of “thought leaders” in the first place.
It turns out, anyone can be a thought leader, these days; if not in finance, then in food, or fashion, or what-have-you.
I Googled it all, on my phone: “Being a thought leader can help you to grow a business.”
I must digress to mention how much I dislike the phrase “grow a business.” You grow a plant. You grow hair. You grow warts, if you’re unlucky. But saying that you “grow” a business makes it sound like you’re doing something active and organic, when what you’re really doing is watching other people work.
“Of course, thought leaders need experience in their field,” said one article. Oh, of course. “But thought leaders do one more thing that sets them apart from the crowd. They let people know that they are innovative.” How do they do this? Through blogs, and posts, and articles…and comments on everyone else’s blogs and posts and articles.
It reminds me of the kids you always heard, all summer long at the pool, yelling “Mom! Mom! Watch me, Mom! I’m going down the slide! Mom, are you watching?”
It all sounds quite tiring, …but leadership requires sacrifices. It’s no good being a thought-leader in a vacuum!
It also makes me wonder — when are these leaders supposed to do the work that they’re thought-leading in?
This is not my idea of being a “thought leader,” anyway.
When Copernicus proposed his new idea that the Earth went around the Sun instead of the other way around — I would call him a “thought leader.”
When Edward Jenner proposed that you could protect people from deadly smallpox by injecting them with a tiny bit of something almost as bad (cowpox) — that was new. You could call him a “thought leader,” although perhaps “scientist” was enough.
If you have just discovered a new particle in physics, or written a best-seller, or invented an anti-gravity field that lets people lift up the china cabinet and shampoo the rug underneath it — you may call yourself a “thought leader.”
But when you have simply come up with some deadly prose which you have blethered, and blogged about, every chance you got — you are not a “thought leader.” You are, in fact, a bore.
After our thought-leader-dinner, my husband and I made it home, where I continued my research. “Hey, sweetie, listen to this: “ ‘Entrepreneur’ says that “through hard work, dedication and creativity, almost anyone can be a thought leader.’ ”
“So everyone’s a leader? No one’s a follower?”
“I guess so. Seems they never heard that ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth.’ ”
“Never mind the broth, Judy — did you have to walk out before the dessert?” “It was too rich for you, anyway. Here, let me peel you an orange.” Absent-mindedly, I started peeling it from the bottom instead of the top. “Hey, would you look at me? I’m a “thought-leader” in peeling oranges!”
“Why settle for thought leader? You could be a thought guru!” It’s possible we’d had a few glasses of wine.
“Or a thought-Orchestrator!”
“Or you could be an Inno-ventor, coming up with inventions and innovations!”
“Are you sure someone hasn’t done that already?”
“Of course I’m sure — I’m the thought-leader, and I’m think-leading the way!”
Or here’s a thought. How about people just stop puffing themselves up with phony superlatives, and just focus on doing the best possible job for their customers? If they did that, I would follow them anywhere.