They’re that special group of people who consistently produce innovative ways of thinking.
They write blog posts and give presentations that define the way industries approach problems and get results. They’re known as leaders in their fields, and people turn to them when they need answers to new and challenging questions.
So what makes them so unique? What causes them to think differently and come up with new ways of thinking? And how do they stay at the forefront of their industry and influence their peers so strongly?
Let’s find out.
Like a cat poking its head to see what’s behind every corner, a thought leader is just as curious. They are always asking why, why, why? Trying to find out more information than they really need, or so we think.
A thought leader’s curiosity creates more opportunities for themselves and their organization. They are in a constant state of data collection, learning, and figuring out new ways of doing things. Always.
Albert Einstein was an example of a person who was known for his curiosity. In a letter to a friend that was quoted in his biography by Walter Isaacson, Einstein said, “People like you and me never grow old. We never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.”
This kind of curiosity continued throughout his life and contributed to much of his breakthrough discoveries. He continued asking questions and learning throughout his life, not because he was told to, but because he had to.
This insatiable curiosity is present with thought leaders. They continue learning and advancing because they absolutely must learn more. Their curiosity never ends.
Thought leaders consistently challenge the status quo.
Brian Clark and the folks at Copyblogger are an example of challenging what’s commonly accepted in their industry. Instead of repeating the latest social media or digital marketing advice, they test what gets the best results and teach based on what works for them. They boldly share their organization’s take on the best digital marketing practices, and they stand by what they speak.
This means that sometimes they ask if social media “experts” are worthless. It’s not because they’re mean; it’s because they aren’t afraid to be competitive and to be challenged to explain themselves.
Most people accept what’s spoken in an industry and do their best to implement it, but thought leaders challenge the common way of thinking. They constantly ask “why” and test to see if what’s being taught is actually what works. If it’s not, they aren’t afraid to stand for what actually is true.
Thought leaders just do things differently. They often follow meticulous rituals to engender focus, but they also maintain a mental state in which they view things differently.
General Patton once said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” This is the unspoken mantra of thought leaders and the constant mental state they live in. They’re constantly considering whether there’s another way to think about or solve a problem.
Thought leaders realize that if they approach issues the same way everyone else has for the last X number of years, there’s no opportunity to improve. But if they can find a new way of doing things, there may be an opportunity for break-through growth. The difference between thought leaders and others is that they maintain a mental state that allows them to view every problem differently, which eventually leads to new opportunities for growth.
Unparalleled empathy “for leaders in particular, is how you’re perceived by others,” says Robert Sutton, Stanford professor and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss (Business Plus, 2010). “It also means understanding others’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as what motivates them.” They see that giving back to their company or community goes beyond self gratification and actually helps to motivate their team.
Because of this, they’re willing to help others and teach them what they know. They have a sense of empathy that creates an urge to share what they’re learning and doing with others.
Bill Gates is a great example of this. As the billionaire founder of Microsoft, there’s no requirement that he give back with his time or his money, yet he’s now devoted his life to helping others through organizations like The Giving Pledge and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Nobody asked him to do this; it just happens to be part of his DNA.
Many other entrepreneurs are known for this same kind of empathy and feel a need to give back. So many people have helped them to get where they are, that they feel obligated to help others in the same way. And as thought leaders, there’s something in the way they’re wired that compels them to help others and to give back.
Thought leaders are also known for hiring the best people possible and developing them through courses, programs, and education.
Steve Jobs was this way. He was known for only hiring “A+” employees. He knew that having the top talent created a competitive advantage so he was only interested in working with the best people. He believed that a small group of “A+” employees could accomplish more than a larger team of “B” or “C” employees.
The results at Apple speak for themselves, and many other thought leaders follow this tenet. They choose to surround themselves with the best talent possible because by doing so they gain an advantage and increase the capacity of what they can accomplish.
This isn’t referring to physical lunches, although they probably don’t miss those either. Instead, it’s a metaphor to describe that thought leaders don’t miss important meetings no matter what.
A lack of commitment can quickly turn into a lack of trust. Consistently being late or not showing up at all creates a bad reputation. Doing business with an untrusted person is slow and messy and often kills relationships altogether. Thought leaders know this and always show up on time, or better yet, ahead of schedule and with a smile.
‘For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.’ – Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak didn’t drop out of college because they didn’t like school, they dropped out because the project they were working on was something they loved more. Despite the pressure to be a Stanford grad seeming more appealing than working on circuit boards, their love for what they did was so intense it turned into what Apple is today.
This is true for all thought leaders. Their passion for their work causes them to devote themselves to what they’re doing. They don’t work because they have to; they work because there’s nothing else they’d rather be doing. Money doesn’t motivate them, rather creating products and services that change the world do.
People often talk about the value of doing what you love. When it comes to thought leaders, this couldn’t ring more true.
Their love for what they do energizes and motivates them. While average employees go home to get away from work, thought leaders are constantly reading, learning, and working, even when they’re “off the clock.”
Are there any characteristics you would add to this list? Who are your favorite thought leaders?
Clarity has a database full of thoughts leaders you can discover yourself. Simply access the list here and search for people based on keywords. Or, if you can’t think of who you should be talking to, check out the featured experts here.
Dan Martell is the Founder and former CEO Clarity, Angel Investor, and Speaker. Dan Martell is an award-winning Canadian entrepreneur who previously co-founded Flowtown, which was eventually acquired by Demandforce in 2011. In 2012 he was named Canada's top angel investor having completed over 33 investments with companies like Udemy, Intercom and Unbounce. He believes "you can only keep what you give away" and is heavily involved in many charitable organizations & community events.