Mindset Shift: Thought Leadership is Sharing Not Bragging
So you don't like to show up online because it feels self absorbed or braggy? I get it.
As I’ve mentioned, perhaps a million times before, many people find the concept of personal branding as wholly self-serving. It seems selfish and egotistical. A woman responded to a recent video I did explaining she didn’t create content because it assumed someone would want to watch it which felt arrogant to her.
The idea that sharing our knowledge, insights, or gifts with others implies a distasteful level of arrogance is downright depressing to me. Not only is such a mindset incredibly self-limiting, but it also limits a person’s ability to help others.
Ultimately, thought leadership is mentorship at scale.
Thought leadership is the ability to advise, coach, and mentor others at a distance. It transforms traditional mentorship from a one-to-one relationship to a one-to-many. It means we can help more people and make a bigger difference.
The goal isn’t to become popular, but to help more people. The idea that there is anything arrogant about that is fundamentally faulty.
What If I Don’t Have Any Way to Help Others?
Too often we think that because we don’t have it all figured out ourselves that we don’t have any knowledge or insight that can help others. This is hogwash!
You’ve been through hard things. You’ve learned powerful lessons helping you to become the person you are today. Those lessons could help someone else. They could help the person who is just a few steps behind you on their path.
The truth is you’re an expert to someone. You have lived a life, experienced, achieved, failed, and learned a million things that no one else has in quite the same way you have. Your perspective and your stories are unique and forceful.
Because you have these experiences, you have a responsibility to share them with others so they can learn from your hard-won insights.
If you still doubt me, think back to the last time you mentored someone. When I was a mentor in residence for a startup accelerator, one of my favorite transformations to witness was when a new mentor would reluctantly volunteer to host their first session. Often these new mentors were positive that they had nothing valuable to share with the startup founders. Every single time they’d walk out of that room they were beaming with pride at their ability to help. Information that they took for granted as boring, rote, or commonplace would be mind-blowing and pivotal in helping these founders.
Too often, we are so close to our own achievements and knowledge that we lose sight of how special and helpful they are to those that don’t live our lives.
Thought Leadership is Sharing Not Bragging
The most common justification I hear for why someone hasn’t worked to develop their personal brand, create content, or build their authority is, “I don’t like to brag.” They tend to utter this statement in one of two ways; either they say with a somewhat smug attitude of self-righteousness in contrast to all the people they believe revel in their self-aggrandizement or they say it with a self-conscious awkwardness as though this is some sort of failing on their part.
Here’s the truth. Most people don’t like to brag about themselves. Most of the people that do brag about themselves don’t realize that’s what they’re doing and are actually over-compensating for deep-seated insecurity (that’s a whole other blog post).
Whenever someone says this to me, I ask them to think of the thought leaders or influencers that they admire. Often they’ll mention people like Brene Brown, Simon Sinek, Adam Grant, or Mel Robbins. Sometimes they’ll throw out names of people in their niche industry, people whose names I’ve never heard.
Then I ask, “Do they ever brag?”
Usually, a sheepish grin spreads across their face in response to my question.
“No, they don’t.”
These thought leaders don’t brag. They share. They share ideas, experiences, lessons, experiments, failures. Yes, they sometimes share wins also, but it’s not about bragging.
It’s about sharing.
Why would anyone care about what we have to share?
That is often the follow-up question.
No matter where you are on your journey in life and career, there is someone out there who is a few steps behind you. Your advice could make the difference between them giving up and continuing to press forward.
This is especially true if you come from an underrepresented class of people...women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, differently-abled, etc. Undoubtedly, there is a younger or less experienced version of you who is struggling and needs to see an example that they can do it. Your story can give others the hope they’ve been searching for.
Not only that, but you might say the exact same thing 100 other thought leaders have said, but because it comes from you, your perspective, your background, your passion, your experience, it will land differently and resonate with people in a very different way.
Thought Leadership is Mentorship -- at Scale
This brings me to my next point, thought leadership is about helping others. Essentially, it is mentorship, except instead of the traditional one-to-one relationship, it allows you to mentor many people at once. It is mentorship at scale.
Few people find the concept of mentorship distasteful. In fact, even the most aggressively humble professionals that I’ve coached find this work valuable, rewarding, and motivating -- largely because its goal is to have an impact on others. Thought leadership is the same thing...except at a larger scale.
When you approach building your thought leadership as an effort that serves others, rather than as something that is wholly self-focused, the work becomes more enjoyable, but also more effective.
I have my gripes with Gary Vee and his style of motivation, but he gets a lot of things right. One of them is that personal branding work requires a give first mentality. He argues that you must be at least 51% altruistic to really break through the noise and build something with impact. When you have that give first mentality, you instantly set yourself apart from the masses who tend to be around 70-90% selfish.
Here’s the point: your thought leadership isn’t about you. It’s about the people you serve. Focus on them, what they need and how you can help them. It will help motivate you to do the hard work of getting out there and staying consistent, and it will ensure you never lose sight of what truly matters in this game of life.
Thought Leadership Helps You Overcome Fear
There’s something magical that happens when we recognize that by elevating our own brand and building our platform, we can have a bigger impact on others. This mindset shift simplifies the process of overcoming the #1 blocker to our progress: fear.
Think about it. In every hero’s journey, their motivation to achieve big goals, conquer mighty foes, and save their people stems from their devotion to others -- the woman they love, the village where they grew up, the kingdom where they live. Yes, we can be motivated by our own wants and desires, but when they are closely intertwined with the lives of others, that motivation grows far stronger.
What’s more is that our ability to face our own fears is emboldened as well.
Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It is the ability to face that fear and press forward despite it. When we have a cause bigger than ourselves, that boldness becomes just a little easier to summon.
As you go down this path and consider how to cultivate your own thought leadership, conduct some self-reflection to understand who you’re doing it for. Who matters? How is this work going to help them?
Creating Thought Leadership Content Is Easier than Personal Branding
One of the other big challenges with personal branding efforts is that we just don’t know what people want to see or hear from us. I often hear clients say, “But I don’t know what to say!” Or “But I’m just not that interesting!”
Of course, this is bulls***, but still, I can empathize. When we liken personal branding to being an influencer, and we aren’t constantly flying to exotic locales, buying designer clothes, or indulging in luxurious experiences, it’s easy to feel like our lives are boring.
But when we are, instead, focused on cultivating our thought leadership, the effort provides direction for the content we want to share, the lessons we want to teach, and the stories we want to tell. It becomes about helping others improve their lives, advance their careers, or solve the problems they are facing.
Here’s my point: It’s not about you.
It’s about them. And that makes it just a touch easier to get out of your head and think through what lessons you learned along the way that can help the audience you want to serve. If you ever get stuck on ideas, you can actually ask your audience what would be most helpful. What are they struggling with? What are they working towards?
I’ve seen time and again that when those whom I lovingly call aggressively humble decide to make the shift from personal branding to thought leadership, the work becomes more rewarding and more successful. If you’re someone who dreams of making a bigger impact in your life, of doing good in your industry or community, start thinking about how you can share your hard-won insights with others in a way that can help them.
You, and they, will be grateful you did.