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Diving Into the World of Thought Leadership | Kon Apostolopoulos


Developing from consultant to thought leader.

Developing from consultant to thought leader.

An interview with Kon Apostolopoulos about growing from consultant to author to thought leader.

The journey of a thought leader often involves moving from being a subject matter expert inside the house, going from room to room sharpening various skills, to eventually leaving the house and applying all of those skills to the greater neighborhood you’ve always lived in.

Kon Apostolopoulos is the Founder and CEO of Fresh Biz Solutions. He’s been been helping businesses achieve strategic goals for more than 20 years by preparing people for the right leadership roles. In addition, Kon is the co-author of 7 Keys to Navigating a Crisis: A Practical Guide to Emotionally Dealing with Pandemics & Other Disasters, a guide to help readers through crisis both personal and global.

Kon takes us through a series of milestones, including publishing his first book, having to take that material to scale, and finding success that had his audience asking new questions — forcing him to continually expand his thinking and problem-solving.

We explore the way thought leadership needs to move the audience further along than they are.  Kon explains how this often means having to speak in simplified terms that allow you to break through both ego and preconceived notions.  We learn how this can only be accomplished by understanding your audience, where they are, and where they need you to take them.

Three Key Takeaways

  • There are two parts to thought leadership.  The idea and thought part.  And the action and external part.  They are symbiotic and necessary to each other to create content that is actionable.
  • Thought leadership needs to move the audience further along than they are.  The conversation doesn’t have to go from 1 – 100, but you have to move the audience at least from 1 to 2 and beyond.
  • Sometimes the best way to break through adult egos and preconceived notions is to present complex ideas in simple ways.

If you need a strategy to bring your thought leadership to market, Thought Leadership Leverage can assist you! Contact us for more information. In addition, we can help you implement marketing, research, and sales. Let us help you so you can devote yourself to what you do best.



Bill Sherman Over the years, I’ve spoken with people who have told me, Oh, no, I’m not really practicing thought leadership myself. But they were really right there on the edge, much like a person putting their toes into the pool, not quite sure if they’re ready to jump in. So how do you make the transition from internal expert or external consultant to someone who is actively and confidently practicing thought leadership? Today I sit down with Colin Apostolos. He’s the founder and CEO of Fresh Business Solutions. And when I first met him, he told me quite clearly he wasn’t practicing thought leadership himself, but he found it interesting. And now, some three years later, he’s working on the manuscript for his first book. In this episode, we’ll talk about how he became comfortable with saying, yes, I practice thought leadership. I’m Bill Sherman and you’re listening to Leveraging Thought Leadership. Ready? Let’s begin. Welcome to the show, Colin.

Kon Apostolopolous It’s good to be here with you, Bill. It has been an honor and a pleasure and a long time coming, my friend.

Bill Sherman I’ve been looking forward to this conversation. So you and I have had conversations about the journey from consultant and practitioner to thought leadership practitioner. And I want to explore that journey today and what perked my ears in a recent conversation. You mentioned a phrase that has stuck with me now for a while that you felt like for many years in your career you were wandering inside the house. Can you tell that story and sort of explain what you meant by that? You’re.

Kon Apostolopolous Well, I’ve been in this field that I’m in right now for about 30 years, even though it feels like this has been my life’s purpose even earlier and over the many years, working for large, diverse organizations, working across four continents, I’ve always found myself diving in, rolling up my sleeves, practicing my art, learning my art and my craft, and it feeling like wandering in and out of different rooms. So in the field that I’m in with talent management, leadership, development, change management, all of these intersections between people, process and performance, I found myself going into different parts, diving in deeper into different avenues, different areas of my field and exploring those. And it’s almost like spending time in a room searching, looking at it, pulling back the covers of different things and really getting familiar with that area. But then I would step out into a common hallway in an area where I’ve been before and somehow wandering and entering and discovering other rooms in this house, but always kind of within the same broader house, if you will, with these many rooms. It wasn’t until recently when I’ve realized that through discussions like the ones that we’ve had and with other thought leaders, I realized that my own processes, my own thinking had matured. And I found myself bravely, somewhat apprehensively stepping outside the house and now taking a look at the house in the context of the broader neighborhood and the area in which I’ve operated and lived for so long. So that to me is a metaphor about my journey and about my journey specifically with thought leadership and transitioning from being a practitioner and somebody who learns and applies a craft and develops a masters of craft to somebody who really can drive the conversation forward and start bringing in original thoughts or evolutions of existing thoughts. If that answers your question.

Bill Sherman It does. And I want to push the conversation a little bit further here. Talk to me about that transition between going from room to room and having the courage to step outside. What was that transition internally? Because I know a lot of people say, do I have anything to add? What went through your head?

Kon Apostolopolous Well, I think that’s many of us go through that same sort of experience where we wonder, okay, who am I to kind of be putting forward these thoughts? Who am I to be sharing my content? I mean, here are people that are published, here are people that are have degrees or here are people that are well known on different platforms in the Internet and the ones that pop up and never Google search on a particular topic. Who am I to be speaking about this? Well, I realize looking back and again, I’m connecting the dots, looking backwards, you can’t do that. Looking forward, now that I have my own history, I have my own exploration. And, you know, talking to people that do have a lot of these higher level degrees and I have a lot of respect for, they say, you know, all we’re doing is researching what’s out there and practicing and sharpening our own thought. It’s no different than what you’re doing as an independent person looking out, going out, gathering the data, looking at the data. If anything, you’re probably less influenced by a teacher telling you something and you’re exploring and you’re discovering it on your own. So there’s tremendous value in that. And that’s a realization that I made. And really it took a lot of effort. And still it’s an effort at times to get beyond my own, you know, insecurities or my own imposter syndrome, if you will, to find that. But. At some point you look around and there are people that you consider peers and that are respected and they’re listening to what you have to say. And if the people that are respecting you, take the time to listen to what you say, perhaps what you’re saying has more value than you realize, and that gives you the courage to then step out and start testing that message and start putting it out there into the public, into the neighborhood.

Bill Sherman I love that. Well, one of the things that resonates to me is that ability to synthesize. What have I learned? Like you said, over 30 years in a career. What are the things that stand true? How do I share my insights in a faster way than telling someone to go on their own 30 year journey? Right.

Kon Apostolopolous Well. Having my own business now and being responsible for my own messaging and having to earn the respect and the trust of clients is a big learning opportunity. It’s a big practice field where you have to be able to get your message condensed and sent out to people that are willing to pay you and trust you enough to pay you for your services. But even as a learning and development professional in my early years, I mean, my intent always has been not to do training for training sake, for example, but rather to. Provide the information, the knowledge, the experience, the skills that people need to enhance that knowledge base. But all in the attempt to change their behavior and then by extension, to change their performance. And it’s no different with what I’m doing. So I develop a lot of my thought leadership, a lot of the ideas that I have. I. Take that in. I process it just like I would with any other training program, and I then internalize it, but put it out in my own flavor, in my own way. I put my own spin on things and deliver it in my unique way, and that has given me the opportunity to see the success with my clients. I see them responding positively to the training or to the coaching. I see them changing behaviors for the better, applying what we talk about, and I see the performance move and over the years I’ve been able to gather enough case studies and I realize that only now, as I’m writing my new book, that I have the opportunity to use so many of my own case studies in this example to show that this is not just me saying it works, but proving that it works and getting that social proof beyond that, a validation from people that have actually applied my ideas.

Bill Sherman And that is something that if you are looking probably five years into a career, would have been much harder to be able to reach and have that library of case studies to say, Hey, I’ve got this idea, maybe it works or it’s worked here. Maybe it generalizes, right.

Kon Apostolopolous That’s exactly it. I mean, even the foundational piece of why I chose to call my business Fresh Biz Solutions. Well, it’s a fresh perspective. By providing business options, business solutions that have worked in one area and then taking them, tweaking them or using them as inspiration to develop business solutions in a whole nother area with a fresh perspective. And because I’ve had the privilege of operating in such diverse environments and cultures, it’s been a great educational ground for me to be able to pull from resource wise and idea wise.

Bill Sherman You talk about a shift in language and I want to call something out to you. You and I have known each other now going on three years. And if I remember correctly, early on, I remember you saying several times. Although I’m not practicing for leadership, or you’d say I’m more of a consultant than a thought leadership practitioner. I’m hearing your language change. How and when did you say, Yeah, I am practicing thought leadership. Was there an aha moment for you?

Kon Apostolopolous There was. And it probably more than wanted a series of milestones, if you will. After my first book that I co-wrote with a good friend of mine, Dr. Ilia Grigoris, who you know as well from our group.

Bill Sherman Mm hmm.

Kon Apostolopolous We put together a book that was a response to the pandemic, the Seven Keys to Navigating a Crisis. And that was an opportunity to get something quickly to market that was almost like first aid emotionally for people dealing with change. Where the first milestone hit me is that year or two of the pandemic. Basically, once we got into 2021, a lot of the clients that I was serving as a consultant, as a coach, as a practitioner, were asking me questions along the lines of, okay, you helped me individually. How can I now use this with my team, with my organization? And it forced me in order to answer those questions, to think in very new ways. Until that point, in many ways, I was using I was pulling together things that I was taught, things that I practiced earlier now was getting into new territory where now I had to take those seven keys and push them out at the organizational level rather than the individual level. And that was the first attempt to me of flexing my thought leadership muscle. And I found that over a year or two and then into year three, so 2122 helping clients embrace the model of resilience, the roadmap of resilience that we’ve built now in a whole new way at the organizational level, basically allowed me to flex that muscle as a first starting point. But it didn’t stop there because the questions keep coming. As a result of having success, the people that trusted me now were asking me, What’s next now? What’s that next normal? We’re trying to bring people back into the workplace. Our old playbook is not working. What do we do now? How do we deal with this great resignation, this quiet, quitting all of these other concepts that we’re now coming out? And so, again, it forced me to really take a look and say, okay, why can’t I be the one answering that question? And so I did. And I found myself answering those questions and getting results from the answers that I was providing, which to me means that my thinking, my thoughts and leading the way from my clients were producing the results. Therefore, I don’t second guess myself now by thinking whether I am a thought leader from that perspective because people around me are looking to me for thought leadership. They are using that title with me. They are approaching me and saying, You are a thought leader, you are an expert. You are somebody we trust in this area. Help us solve this problem. So it’s not me saying I am, but it’s rather me accepting that role that my clients have thrust me in.

Bill Sherman And there’s a significant difference, I think, between subject matter expertise and thought leadership. Right. You can be an expert and not be sought out for advice. You may know everything there is to know. But you haven’t engaged with an audience and you haven’t found, whether it’s a community, a target audience for a business trying to reach and impact how people think and act. And I think part of the stepping stone in the journey is to realize, Oh. People are asking me questions because they’re trying to figure out what to do next and they’re asking for me to create impact.

Kon Apostolopolous Correct? Correct. And that asking only happens when it’s done in a spirit of trust and mutual respect. People will not seek you out for answers if they don’t trust you. From that perspective, if there has to be that level of acceptance and they will look at you in that role, without that, they won’t come to you. Like you said, there’s a lot of experts that are not sought after. There are a lot of subject matter people that know a lot. They’ve read every book on a particular theme or chapter or or content wise. But still, they’re not necessarily the kind of people that you go because the trust isn’t there, that what they know is something that I can take and apply. There is the two parts of thought leadership, the past, the thinking part, the processing part, the internal part, if you will, and then the action, the external part that goes with it. Those two are symbiotic and necessary for each other to have that role as a thought leader. What you’re telling me you’re thinking I need to be able to take and apply?

Bill Sherman Absolutely. If you’re enjoying this episode of Leveraging Thought Leadership, please make sure to subscribe. If you’d like to help spread the word about our podcast, please leave a five-star review at and share it with your friends. We’re available on Apple Podcasts and on all major listening apps as well as thought leadership

And if you flip it around and you have leadership without thought, you have faultless leadership, which very few people want to follow because and this is a place I want to dig with you a little bit. The concept of moving the conversation further, you have to take your listener or the person you’re speaking with further than they are today. You may not need to take them from 0 to 100% of what you know, but you’ve got to move them from 0 to 1 or from 5 to 6. Let’s explore that for a little bit. How do you move the conversation and how are you moving the conversation differently than you would have five years ago?

Kon Apostolopolous So let’s explore that. That’s a great question. To me, there is an expression that I heard a while back which has been central to all of the leadership development programs that I teach and all of the leadership that I apply. You cannot lead people where beyond where you’ve been yourself. And so in many ways, even if through your thoughts, your exploration, you’ve explored that territory ahead, you’ve scouted ahead, then you can venture into that space. And that’s the only way you can bring people along. Like you said, thoughtless leadership is really dangerous. You start taking people into an area where you have not been yourself. That’s a different kind of thing. That’s not thought leadership. That’s perhaps team innovation, that’s exploring things together. That’s fine, but that’s not thought leadership. That’s a very different experience that you’re trying to do when people come to you and they want a guide. They’re looking for somebody who’s been there or at least has an understanding of what that terrain ahead looks like. So when you’re bringing people along, it’s important to understand your audience and where they are, where their needs are and understand that their vantage point, their angle about how and where they’re looking things. Is may be different than yours, but you still have to be able to communicate in a way that allows them to have that line of sight between where they are and where you’re taking them. If they can’t see it, if they can’t follow it, they can’t follow your thinking and they can’t come along.

Bill Sherman Exactly. And if you start the conversation. With all the nuance and complexity that you’re enjoying thinking about on a day to day basis. And introduce it to someone and they have no foundation. They’re going to tune out.

Kon Apostolopolous Yeah. And that’s and that’s the pitfall of someone. And to me, it’s an indicator of someone who hasn’t mastered their craft or mastered their thinking. Because if you can’t say it in simple enough terms that a child can understand it, then you haven’t really thought it through well enough. You’re just flouting jargon. You’re you’re sharing things that you’ve heard of, but you really don’t understand. To me, the the trial and the testing ground more than the executives that I coach and teach is with my own little kids that I coach soccer. As you know, that’s my hobby, my passion. That’s my that’s where I, I truly find my calling, working with these young kids and really helping them grow in their own thinking, their own leadership, their own team building their own life skills. And to me, if I can take the complex thoughts that I have that I teach executives and break it down to them in very simple terms and they get it, then I know I’m onto something. And quite honestly, I use that same breakdown, that same simplicity with my executives. Sometimes that’s the best way to get through the egos and the preconceived notions and all of the barriers that many adults and especially experienced, successful adults put up in their own. Way and it blocks their own growth.

Bill Sherman So you talk about being able to explain complex ideas in a simple way. Right. And if you can explain it to a six year old, you can explain it to a CEO who has things floating through their head and they’re trying to focus on any of them, right? Correct. Wired magazine does a great series, and I’m going to call this out because it aligns perfectly with this. They do a series of videos where they get a global expert in a field to talk about something that they know, whether black holes or zero knowledge proofs or the concept of infinity. And then they have this scaling where they go from the expert explaining it to a child, to a high school student, undergraduate, graduate student, and then a peer. And what’s beautiful about it is if you listen to the language, the thought maybe becomes more complex. But it’s not really jargon loaded at any point. You can eavesdropping on the conversation at any point and learn something from it. And that’s one of the things that I take away is can you make your ideas accessible regardless of your audience, whether they’re zero or they’re at 100 with you?

Kon Apostolopolous Exactly. And I think you hit the nail on the head there, Bill. And I think not just you need to make your ideas accessible to all of them. But the vice versa. You need to understand who you’re communicating with and make sure that the message is geared towards that audience in particular.

Bill Sherman Because you can reach an audience who looks and goes, Yeah, but that’s not for me. I’m not interested. This isn’t relevant. And so you have to have a discipline and patience and be willing to talk again and again. I want to ask you about a phrase that you’ve used that I want to come back to. You say The more you talk, the more you sharpen the idea. I want to explore that with you a little bit, if you would.

Kon Apostolopolous Yeah. To me. I started a lot of my thinking. Like many of us, you know, internally. But being an extrovert, I process with my outside voice. Lot more than I do with my inside voice. And having conversations with people allows me to further process my ideas and fine tune it. And as you mentioned, testing these ideas with different audiences. Some of them the message is more relevant than others. The more educated or more mature or older or whatever the case might be. But testing these ideas with different audiences and sharing them sharpens your thinking, because it forces you to really explain it in a lot of different ways or to answer questions that. A very powerful from people that have no knowledge of what you’re talking about. And they look at you like, huh, what does that mean? And when you’re when you’re confronted with one of those questions of I don’t get it, what does that mean? You have to start really processing things. I mean, case in point, when I when my wife and I got married, we come from two very different backgrounds and cultures and things that I took for granted in my own thinking from my own cultural upbringing were not a given for her. And it forced us to build a stronger relationship and a better way to communicate, because even the simplest things like the roles that each one of us plays in the family or time management or simple responsibilities had to be brought to the forefront, challenged and agreed upon. It’s the same thing with my thought leadership. I find that the more I converse with people, and especially people that are not extremely knowledgeable about the topic, it forces me to really expand my thinking and challenge my thinking. And then the experts can come in and really pick it apart. And that allows me then to defend my thesis even more, to kind of look at it differently or to really kill some of my darlings. And I sort of wince. Okay, that’s not the right way to go about it. Maybe there is a better way. And again, all of this doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a maturation process. It takes time to get there.

Bill Sherman You talk about being an extrovert and. I think if you were to look over the continuum, based on my experience, there are some thought leadership practitioners that lean more towards the introverted side, some more towards the extroverted side. And I would say if you lean more towards the introverted, it takes more courage to go start talking and getting that feedback because you want to get it perfect before you put the idea out there. Perfect doesn’t always happen right from the extroverted side. I think and you alluded to it, but I want to underscore it. It’s the ability to play the tapes after the conversation and listen to what was said. Reflect and say what did I learn in that conversation rather than just repeat the same conversation again and again?

Kon Apostolopolous Correct. And again, you allow yourself, you know, that what you’re putting out there is not perfect and you accept it as part of your processing. Now, again, it’s easier to do in certain places where there is trust. There is a desire for that mutual respect and learning. But nonetheless, it’s it becomes it is more natural to an extrovert to process these things outside.

Bill Sherman So, Con, as we begin to wrap up here, I want to ask you a question and do a little bit of external processing, if you will. Given what you know now about vault leadership, what advice would you give your younger self?

Kon Apostolopolous But so many things. But I would say trust yourself more. Believe that the answers that you have. Have value, even if they’re not perfect, that there is there is power in continuing the conversation to remember that it’s about progress, not perfection as you’re evolving this.

Bill Sherman And then one final question, if I may.

Kon Apostolopolous Sure.

Bill Sherman Who’s work in your field? Do you think more people should be reading or discovering?

Kon Apostolopolous That’s a good one, especially now, as I’ve been digging more and more into this topic. Now I go back to the simple messages of Ken Blanchard, Dr. Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey and their situational leadership models. And to me. It allows for that deeper thinking. What on the surface seems very, very simple. You know, one minute this or one minute that or exploring and answering the question, well, what’s the best leadership style? It depends. But truly, to get to the heart of that, it requires a deeper thinking, a deeper discipline to be able to analyze situations of people and their needs and really think beyond yourself into that servant leadership model that then allows you to serve others in a way that is meaningful to them. And taking that that golden rule of treating others the way you want to be treated further and deeper into that more platinum rule area where it says treat others the way that they want to be treated and they need to be treated. To me, I think we will all be better served and get away from the polarized environment that we find ourselves in today. I think we need to all get back to that basic tenet of how can we serve others, how can we help, how can we put our egos aside and start building the kind of workplaces and communities that we want to be and that we can thrive in and we can see our children moving into?

Bill Sherman I want to thank you for joining us today to talk about your journey and thought leadership, as well as the adventures it’s taken. You want.

Kon Apostolopolous Thank you, my friend. Thank you for allowing me to be here, for creating space for our discussion. And I hope that our audience will take this and do something with it.

Bill Sherman Absolutely. If you’re interested in organizational thought leadership, then I invite you to subscribe to the OrgTL newsletter. Each month we talk about the people who create, curate and deploy thought leadership on behalf of their organizations. Go to the website. and choose ‘join our newsletter’. I’ll leave a link to the website as well as my LinkedIn profile in the show notes. Thanks for listening and I look forward to hearing what you thought of the show.

Bill Sherman works with thought leaders to launch big ideas within well-known brands. He is the COO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Bill on Twitter

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