Are You a Thought Leader?
Some time ago, I heard Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-fil-A, make a statement that had a deep impact on me. He said, “We need to be thought leaders to be market leaders.” I couldn’t agree more.
Think about this. If you lead a company, a team, or a church for instance, what’s the advantage of being a thought leader? And what is a thought leader anyway? Let me share a few ideas on this important topic.
Traditionally, our view of leaders—whether at home, at work, or in the community—is of someone summoning the rest of us forward, a person of exceptional character and great appeal that we would like to follow. We commonly judge leadership by its outward fruit, the product of strategy and implementation. But highly effective leaders are more than mere implementers of strategy. They tap into something deeper.
When I first considered what Dan Cathy said, it made me wonder. I would think to be a market leader, like Chick-fil-A, you simply need a solid business plan—carefully designed and aggressively executed. Why would he propose that market leaders must be thought leaders?
Let’s begin by understanding what a thought leader is.
What is a thought leader?
A thought leader has depth to his or her soul and profound understanding. A depth they continually enrich by intentional effort. An understanding and clarity of themselves, their people, and their customers. A solid intellectual grasp on what they do and why they do it. When you are in the presence of a thought leader, you just want to sit back and listen because they walk through expansive and captivating journeys of the mind and soul long before they take others with them.
You are thought leader when:
- your thinking precedes your action.
- your reflection exceeds your projection.
- your introspection surpasses your preaching.
- your learning exceeds your teaching.
- your questions are better than your answers
- your writing is better than your speaking.
- your wisdom is better than your knowledge.
- your heart is deeper than your intellect.
Last year, I had the privilege of visiting the Chick-fil-A headquarters in Atlanta to hear a few of their executives speak. While I have met executives of other big companies like Microsoft, Boeing, and Delta, and heard them speak, the notable difference about Chick-fil-A’s leaders is that they vigorously value thinking, writing, and speaking. When they speak, you stop and listen. They clearly have a deep understanding of the benefits of intentional thinking. Two of their top leaders have actually published books in the areas of leadership and customer service. And so, as their CEO stated, it is evident that theirs is a culture of intellectual depth, not only business savvy.
If you are interested in learning more, there are many great articles on thought leadership, including this one from Forbes. There is also a recent book on the topic as well, Ready to Be a Thought Leader?
How does one become a thought leader?
A thought leader spends time alone: thinking, pondering, reflecting, and writing. And thought leaders spend time with others. Others better than they are, others ahead of them in life and leadership. They invest time with those who will challenge their thinking and perspectives. Thought leaders read, write, and speak, among other things, to enrich their thinking.
Actionable Step: Realize that your ability to think deeply before you implement will set your organization and those you lead apart from the rest.
What I am Reading Now: Hearing God:Developing a Conversational Relationship with God, by Dallas Willard. I started reading this book last night. I read the first 30 pages, and have enjoyed its clarity and depth so far. I will let you know my impressions next week as I read further.
For Further Reading: