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There are two types of thought leaders in the world of business — “some are big ‘T’ Thought Leaders, the names we all recognize.  Others are little ‘t’ thought leaders who reach their own niche market and do it all the time.”

thought leaderThat explanation comes from the researchers at, a global sales and training firm.

“A Thought Leader has passion plus market relevance and reach.  For a business to thrive, it must have something authentic and valuable to offer, and without something spun from the passion you hold for your expertise… you can’t continue to teach others and sustain your business as a whole without developing an ongoing relationship with your market.  One without the other just doesn’t work.”  That is the central belief of  a 195-plus page workbook they published to help executives understand thought leadership.

The respected thought leader executives — those with a great passion for how and what they do and who are constantly and effectively engaging the market — are a valuable commodity in the search of executive leadership talent.  So, substitute the word business in the explanation with “my career.”

In this noisy world filled with many effective executives who produce great results each year, just doing a good job is not enough to differentiate yourself in the market.  Becoming a thought leader is a highly effective way to help you stand out to future employers.  However, if your career goal is not to progressively advance with more responsibility with a higher level of compensation to support your family and build a foundation for your eventual retirement, then you can stop reading.  This will probably be a waste of your time.  But those of you who have passion for what you do and who want to excel in terms of performance and through career and financial advancement, stick around.

I love what I do.  I would not swap this job for anything else, and I have had some interesting gigs — from working as a crime writer and investigative reporter for a major Texas newspaper, serving as the first director of Hermann Hospital’s acclaimed Life Flight emergency helicopter transport program, to building a major not-for-profit healthcare system composed of more than 40 rural and community hospitals, and creating two search firms, this one cannot be beat.  I have recruited in seven different countries on four continents.  In one trip, I flew around the world in 28 days in search of nurses and physical and occupational therapists, with stops in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth Australia; Johannesburg, South Africa; and Amsterdam.  Today, I am lucky to meet some of the most interesting people, many with interesting stories.

When friends and colleagues hear my story for the first time, they seem genuinely amazed.  I get a lot of “what was it like” questions.  I try to use my experiences to build a connection with them through explanations.  These stories have helped me grow my firm.

While I do love what I do, there is a downside.  I also meet talented executives who are interesting but you would not know it from how they present themselves, how they communicate.  I have to try and drag it out of them in interviews.  We work hard to grab some morsel of information that will help differentiate them from other candidates.  Some have achieved great successes, personally and professionally, but it is as if they do not feel that information is relevant or interesting.  The idea of weaving previous success or perhaps a wonderful defining personal moment into their narrative is not even close to being on their radar.  They may make their boards happy through good performance but they are so not self aware.

It is frustrating and, in some cases, it saddens me; that I can sense there is something special but the candidate just cannot see the value and so they keep it buried.  These people “are their own best partner, and worst enemy,” as the RainToday research on thought leadership explains.

That is probably why some executives who are in career transition shut me out when I explain that they need to elevate their professional standing within their field by writing, posting, speaking and networking more aggressively.  To become a thought leader.  For some, the reaction to this piece of advice is swift and negative, sometimes colorful.  It is as if such activity is beneath the dignity of someone who runs a business.

I strongly disagree with that response.

The concept of thought leadership is one that interests me, and I want to share more on this excellent career management tool in future posts.

I invite you to join the conversation with your own thoughts.