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"Don't worry about people stealing an idea. If it's original, you will have to ram it down their throats."
~ Howard H. Aiken, as quoted by Robert Slater in Portraits in Silicon
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term "thought leader" first appeared in writing in 1887. But it didn't take hold until more than one hundred years later when Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of Strategy & Business magazine, started a column profiling thought leaders of the day. "A thought leader is recognized by peers, customers, and industry experts as someone who deeply understands the business they are in, the needs of their customers and the broader marketplace in which they operate," said Kurtzman. "They have distinctively original ideas, unique points of view, and new insights.”
As experts in our fields, we all aspire to be thought leaders. But that honorific may not work out the way we expect it to. Consider the evidence:
To be regarded as a thought leader, you must build your reputation and have the title bestowed upon you. But you have no control over others' opinions of your work and ideas, and those who confer this coveted title may not be the people impacted by your work.
The truth is that you don't have to be a thought leader to make a difference. You don't have to be a thought leader to be an expert. And you don't have to be a thought leader to be a thoughtful leader.
Instead of focusing on other people's opinions of your work, focus on the things you can control. Show up, provide value, and be your full brilliant self. If you end up being regarded as a thought leader, that's great. That is certainly a cause for celebration. But then get back to work. Because recognition isn't what matters.