#TNL Spotlight: The True Value of Thought Leadership

I’ve been picking my brain about my presentation at the upcoming Talent Net Live event in Dallas, turning around questions about value and, more importantly, values, two of the core precepts that lie at the heart of any successful executive’s vision and strategy.

And thinking about thinking is always an interesting exercise, particularly because thought leadership, one of the topics I’m planning on speaking about at #TNL this Friday, must, by definition, be innovative and original.  Which is, I’ll admit, a bit harder than it seems.

Some of the key ideas I’m looking at through the kaleidoscope in my head are around knowing what is useful for other people and how people go about getting known for what they know. I remember watching my partner and protege Shally Steckerl present on social media at the Atlanta Recruiting Roadshow in the Spring of 2008, a veritable lifetime ago when it comes to social media in general and social recruiting in particular.

But even now, something Shally said at that presentation has stayed with me (as all good thought leadership does).  The takeaway that impressed me most at the time was his notion that who knows us is more important than who we know. The idea is that what matters most, when all is said and done, can be summed up in a single word: influence.

And really, when you think about it, influence is everything.  The definition might be somewhat subjective, but the tangible effects of influence are really anything but.  For recruiters, or leaders, it’s about who will take your phone call, or respond to your e-mail, and early adopters quickly realized that social media facilitated the building of personal brands and global followings that far superseded the traditional “old boy” networks recruiters have long relied on.

Seeing the returns of these social media adepts proves the wisdom in one of the most compelling components of Shally’s thinking: the focus on reciprocation, the “give to get” or “pay it forward” approach to building an online persona, in short, pays off.  Because after all, influence doesn’t operate in a vacuum; it’s reflected in the efficacy by which we’re able to do our jobs and facilitate the conversation, and connections, to drive our business and industry forward.

Over the years I’ve reflected on that presentation many times and referenced the idea of “who knows you” being more important than”who you know” many times in my own public work.  Lately, I’ve been paying more attention to some key outlets like Twitter and rethinking what I believe really matters most in social media communications, an examination which has forced me to refocus on the relative merits of knowing and being known.

The more I think about it, it becomes clear to me that the essential value of building a network and brand isn’t how many people may know someone, or the number of Twitter followers one has.  The business of people is one of abstractions, not absolutes, and the truth of the matter is, not all connections are created equal.

I know an analyst and so-called “thought leader” (just ask him) who once explained his view on the subject to me:  “At the time of the Caesars, there were only 100,000 citizens in Rome. If you can get 100,000 people to pay attention to you today you can still live like a king.”

His goal was to get as many people focused on him as he possibly could by whatever means he could use; of course, as history teaches us, this approach didn’t particularly work well for Caesar.  Et tu?

What’s neglected in this somewhat creative historiography is that while this line of thinking might render onto Caesar what is Caesars, it ignores the quality of ideas or the value that others might derive from thought leadership.  Impact and influence are ignored in aggregation, focusing exclusively on the number of followers, fans, friends or what have you and the imagined riches (and even more imagined “celebrity”) that can be derived.

To adjudicate ROI from a bottom line perspective, it’s all about value; to adjudicate ROI from a thought leadership perspective, similarly, it’s all about values.  As this analyst proved, ego and material motivations like money and, to some degree, the influence one can wield from being renowned are, to me, proof that the bigger the ego, at least in social media, the smaller the thinking.

And selling out for social media is, at the end of the day, selling yourself short.

What I hope to get across to the group on Friday is that the transcendent value for thought leaders is the quality of the ideas we are known for, not how many people know or follow us. So I’m thinking it is what we are known for that really matters most.

My friend and teacher Matt Church (the author of the book Thought Leaders) says “commercially smart Thought Leaders focus on delivering 10x the value they receive when bringing their ideas to market.”

The kind of thinking that I believe matters is based on ideas that give us courage and strength. My friend Michael Henderson a mentor, corporate anthropologist and thought leadership guru says, succinctly, “Values are what make us valorous.”

Thought Leaders whose values include placing value delivered to others before value derived from others have my admiration. I think we need more of them. I am really grateful and enthused to have an opportunity to explore how we get there together with the Talent Net Live Community.

Monster is proud to support TalentNet Live (#TNL), an event for talent managers and human capital leaders featuring some of the brightest minds and biggest innovations in the HR industry and continuing the conversation – and learning – for practitioners around topics like social media, social recruiting and HR training.

Check MonsterThinking.com all week as we preview some of the ideas and innovations from #TNL track leaders and attendees.


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