I got an email from LinkedIn with a title that struck a nerve with me: “Don’t miss out on updates from thought leaders” and it went on to list a bunch of successful businesspeople and a link at the bottom that said: “See more thought leaders". This newly-coined term, “thought leader” infuriates me. What does that title mean? Who designates these people? Why should we even care?
The title “thought leader” can be taken a couple different ways. The way that initially perceived it was condescending and elitist, as in “you can’t even think at the level of these people. You need to listen to them.” Screw that. Like I want anything to have to do with Richard Branson and Arianna Huffington. You could also take the term to mean that these people have ideas that shape the entirety of industry, finance, and technology. That’s a bunch of crap, too. Everyone has ideas. These people are just in a much better position to execute them because of their money, power and influence. I just did a search on “thought leader” and discovered this is a “thing", going back to at least 2010. Another Dilbert-world industry buzzterm so we can discover that this is what we must aspire to and buy books and seminars.
From a website: “To be a thought leader, you need to immerse yourself in your professional domain and search for new things to say that add value to your organization’s objectives.” Search for new things to say… All you have to do is say shit. Sorry, this is not sufficient. It seems to me that you can’t get anything done by having a bunch of “thought leaders” in a conference room coming up with new things to say. Meanwhile, there’s a bunch of awesome people keeping their mouths shut and getting things done.
Here’s the other issue with this idea. In our polarized, black-and-white world we live in today, you are a leader or you are a follower. If you’re not a thought leader, all you are is following someone else. And that’s exactly what LinkedIn is suggesting I do. I need to follow these “leaders”. I need to do what they say, because my thoughts are not at their level. Obviously, because I’m not a multi-billionaire. You know what the real thought leaders say (and have said in the past)? “Don’t listen to me. Think for yourself.”