Want to Be a Thought Leader?

Do you want to be a better leader who captures people’s hearts and minds? Do you want to acquire more respect and admiration from those around you? And do you want to be the kind of person whom other people want to listen to?

Last evening I had the honor and privilege of attending a small gathering of around 40+ people who got to hear Tom Peters in a small little bakery in Washington D.C., coordinated by Debbie Weil. If you know anything about Tom (who’s breakout best-seller in 1982, In Search of Excellence, really created the whole, “management guru” category) then you know he rarely ever speaks to small crowds.

In fact, the last time I heard Tom speak live it was in the JW Marriott Hotel, a few years ago, with over 1,000 people in attendance who each paid a hefty fee to spend a day spell-bound by Peters. And when I say spell-bound, I mean it. For an entire day, he never once got up on the podium. Instead, he walked the entire ballroom floor (we were all seated at round tables–so this was a huge room) front-to-back, and side-to side for hour and hour on end. It was magical (and listen, as a professional speaker, it’s very hard to impress me).

Then again, last evening, I found myself once again transfixed by Peters in this very casual environment. But this time there was no powerpoint presentation. No speaker system. No large screen video. Just Peters and a few index cards. However as he was talking I realized one of the reasons why I’m so mesmerized by Tom. It’s not just that he’s brilliant or passionate or a great story teller, etc. What always impresses me about Tom is how well-read and up-to-date he is. I’m always in awe of that (and I’m a voracious reader).

As Tom answered question after question he would reflect back on something he had read recently. An op-ed piece in the NY Times last Sunday. An article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. A news story on a breakthrough technology last week. A quote from a book he’s now reading, etc. Then, when you combine that with the depth of having done this for decades, he could answer just about any question with a reference to something he had read–of which, his memory and recall are just as amazing.

But as I thought about that experience last evening and you today, I was reminded of a line from Tim Sander’s book, Love is a Killer App, when he said, “Knowledge currency is social currency on steroids!” I love that phrase. What he means is that water cooler knowledge (like who won American Idol last evening or how your local sports team is doing) is good–it’s social currency.

However, there’s something much better than social currency, there’s knowledge currency. And knowledge currency is acquired, first and foremost, through reading. In other words, the person who’s well-read and has the ability to apply that knowledge to help other people or help a business grow or solve problems, acquires a level of respect and power that the social currency leaders never will–and he’s right!

The old adage that, “Leaders are readers and readers are leaders,” is still as true today as it has been in the past. So, how are you doing in this area? What have you been reading lately? What questions are you wrestling with and seeking answers to? How broadly are you reading? How are you doing at recalling what you’re reading? What are you reading that’s challenging your thinking?

If you want to be a thought leader, then you have to be a voracious reader and learner. But don’t make it too complicated. Don’t worry about what’s the best or most important book or article to read. Just read something that challenges you. Then, and this is key, look for some way to integrate that into a conversation over the next day (“Hey, this [situation] reminds me of something I read yesterday in an article in [book, journal, magazine] …”) or into an action (that you execute within the first 24 hours).

If you’ll make that kind of commitment to read voraciously and broadly, as well as to either share or act on what you’ve read, you will become a thought leader. And when you do that, you’ll find that it becomes infinitely easier to lead your business or organization.

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you’d like a few ideas of books to read, check out the book recommendations section of this website (with links to Amazon)

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