Forget Thought Leaders – We Need More “Thought Followers”

Recently Mitch Joel wrote an article about the emerging trend of people dubbing themselves “thought leader”or “guru”. It was a great post – you should go read it.

Yesterday I came across another Twitter bio in which someone self-tagged as a “thought leader”, and it generated this (probably unwarranted) response:

The problem with calling yourself a thought leader is that you suddenly become hyper conscious about where your thoughts might be leading. You might begin to worry more about the influence of your thoughts than about the intrinsic value of the thoughts. This is a slippery slope into manipulation and self-centered work, and it’s also destructive to the openness required for a healthy creative process.

It’s my belief that we desperately need more “thought followers”.

These are people who immerse themselves in the brilliant, challenging thoughts of others, commune with great minds, and then follow their own thoughts wherever they might lead. They have a disciplined Study Plan that challenges them to think about important problems and allows them to stretch their thoughts and explore uncomfortable places.

They aren’t afraid to humbly submit to the great insights of others and consider their implications to their own work. They are fiercely curious. They love process. They set aside time to savor great writing. They understand that brilliant ideas are excavated and assembled, not self-generated.

The funny thing is that those who become great “thought followers” are the best candidates to later become “thought leaders”, but they probably won’t self-adopt the tag. (As a side note, I immediately went to Twitter and added “thought follower” to my bio.)

Become a thought follower. Immerse yourself in brilliant and beautiful thoughts of others, then follow them, savor them, and consider how they are relevant to the important problems you’re tasked with solving.

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  1. Noel Payne

    With the growing “Thought” Leader/Follower/student industry, do you think this is the resurgence of Philosophy to the realms of Cultural wisdom to a society

    • Todd Henry

      Possibly, Noel. The trouble is that wisdom is proven through fruit and action, and most of our leader/follower/student relationships are virtual these days. It’s hard to know what’s proven wisdom and what’s not. My only REAL complaint (rant?) is in self-proclaiming to be a thought leader…

  2. Justin Lukasavige

    Such a great article. Maybe I should update my bio. 😉

  3. Tom Kubilius

    Isn’t calling yourself a thought leader a bit like giving yourself a nickname? It’s presumptuous and creates resentment.

    In pretty much any field, we’ve built what we know on the work of those who have come before us. Struggling to understand the work of others and how it applies is more worthwhile than standing in the virtual square and making a declaration with no more substantiation than “I’m a thought leader, listen to me.”

    If someone is doing good work, they don’t need to tell us they’re a thought leader. It probably hurts more than it helps.

    I just finished an engagement with a client that spent a lot more time telling me about how competent they were and how they had worked on much bigger projects than actually creating value. Their actual contribution made the claims ring hollow.

    I hope to not be that person in any of my work.


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I'm Todd Henry.

I'm Todd Henry.

I write books, speak internationally on productivity, creativity, leadership, and passion for work, and help people and teams generate brilliant ideas.

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