7 reasons you’ll never become a thought leader

Wait, wait. Let’s define it first. For our purposes here, a “thought leader” is a person who writes and/or speaks prolifically on a business topic, who has a massive following, but who isn’t compensated directly or primarily for producing such content. Disagree with this definition? Let’s battle in the comments section. In the meantime…

So you want to be a thought leader, huh?

Let me save you the trouble. It’s not going to happen, and it’s not a good use of your time to chase it. The become-a-thought-leader-handbook deserves its own little spot on the bookshelf right next to your Rosetta Stone CDs and other awesome ideas that aren’t worth your time.

Every CEO, law firm partner, and VP of sales/marketing– heck, any recent grad or recently unemployed comes to the great epiphany that thought leadership is the way to go.  I’m guilty, certainly. I started this blog in 2010 thinking I’d become a thought leader. Ha!

Okay, enough with my bad attitude (hey, it’s been a long week!), let me deliver on the goods and give you my list of 7 reasons you’ll never become a thought leader:

#1: You’re already too well established in your field, and you’re afraid of being scrutinized (“beginners gap“) for an imperfect article or presentation. If you’re afraid to write, you’ll never write enough to get good at it.

#2: You don’t have a “voice”. You may have the “thought” part down in the form of industry expertise, but to be a thought leader, you’ll need to communicate your message effectively. That means developing a writing style that resonates with your audience. This could take years, and hundreds of articles.

#3: You care more about the outcome than the act. If all you want is strong SEO and the fame of being recognized by LinkedIn as an Influencer, then there’s zero chance you’ll achieve it. You’re going to have to love sharing your experiences and insights publicly to have any shot at this.

#4: You’re going to have to talk/communicate with a A LOT of people on a daily basis– which is probably not how you want to spend your days. Look how quickly and often a couple of well known thought leaders respond to comments. Examples here and here. If you’re going to build a following, you have to engage with your readers. This is a HUGE time sink.

#5: The economics don’t work out. How many hours a week does it take to even have a shot at becoming a thought leader? 15? 30? More? If you’re running a business, what are the chances you can afford that type of investment of your own time into something that will most certainly not yield any measurable ROI?

#6: Your particular thought leadership won’t attract clients. So you run a Fortune 2000 company but you want to write about your passion for fly fishing. That’s not thought leadership. That’s called a fly-fishing-blog. Go for it.

#7: You don’t have the experience or insight. This was the hardest one for me to accept. When I started blogging, I’d been practicing law for all of two years. I wanted to write, but quite literally had nothing compelling to say.  (Note: This is also the safest time to start writing– when no one has any expectations).

There you have it! Agree? Disagree? Let’s battle in the comments.

Still convinced that thought leadership is something attainable? If you’re going to do it anyway, I’d recommend finding a few of the best and getting familiar with their style, length and frequency. If you’ve got your mind made up to chase it, you might as well find some great examples to emulate.

There are many (Mark Cuban and Richard Branson don’t count). Here are three of my favorites below. Please suggest others.

Jason Lemkin

Laura Kerekes

Sam Glover


About Preston Clark

Preston Clark has been writing about legal tech since 2010. He's currently the CRO for a leading legal tech SaaS company in the San Francisco Bay Area. Preston was formerly in-house counsel for the University of Miami and a Peace Corps Volunteer in Central America. In his free time, Preston enjoys building world-class sales teams, reading about SaaS, playing pick-up basketball and planning adventures with his son.