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How Thought Leaders Can Thrive in a Digital World | Robert Hargrove

How Thought Leaders Can Thrive in a Digital World | Robert Hargrove | 567

Exploring the Shift from Long-Form to Short-Form Content

A conversation with Robert Hargrove about how publishing and how thought leadership has changed over the years.

In this episode of the Thought Leadership Leverage podcast, host Peter Winick sits down with Robert Hargrove, founder and CEO of Masterful Coaching, co-founder of the Harvard Leadership Project, and author often influential books, including “Masterful Coaching.” This insightful discussion explores the evolving landscape of thought leadership, focusing on the shifting dynamics in publishing and the rise of social media.

Robert shares his unique perspective on how publishing has transformed over the years. During a recent visit to Barnes & Noble, he noticed that most books in business and politics were authored by thought leaders. However, when he browsed LinkedIn, he observed a wave of recycled content from decades ago, repackaged as something new. This led to a conversation about how thought leadership has moved from long-form content, such as books, to short-form content on social media. While social media provides rapid access to ideas, Robert and Peter discuss the significant difference in depth and quality between reading a book and scanning a LinkedIn post.

Defining thought leadership, Robert describes it as presenting a big idea that is eye-opening, brain-tingling, and paradigm-shifting. He emphasizes that the idea doesn’t need to be entirely original but should offer a new perspective or improve upon existing concepts. He uses Marty Neumeier’s “Brand Flip” as an example of how traditional ideas can be approached in a fresh way.

The conversation delves into the nuances of thought leadership on social media, addressing the importance of civil discourse and respectful disagreement. Robert stresses that engaging with others’ ideas and leaving thoughtful comments can foster a healthy exchange and build new relationships. He also discusses his journey into podcasting and the impact of verbal interactions on the audience, highlighting how even non-groundbreaking conversations can spark meaningful thoughts among listeners.

Finally, Robert and Peter share their favorite podcasts and writers, such as Malcolm Gladwell and Adam Grant, comparing their unique styles in both book and podcast formats.

Tune in to explore the evolution of thought leadership and gain insights into how to navigate and succeed in this changing landscape.

Three Key Takeaways:

  • Shift from Long-Form to Short-Form Thought Leadership: The landscape of thought leadership has shifted from long-form content, like books, to short-form content on social media platforms. While this change offers accessibility and immediacy, it can lead to a reduction in depth and quality.  Robert Hargrove discusses how, in the past, a book was a hallmark of thought leadership, but today, many thought leaders focus on shorter, more digestible content. This shift requires a balanced approach to maintain quality while reaching a broader audience.
  • Redefining Thought Leadership: Thought leadership is not just about creating original ideas; it’s about presenting concepts in a way that is eye-opening, paradigm-shifting, or improving upon existing ideas. Robert emphasizes that thought leadership can be delivered through various mediums, including speeches, podcasts, and social media, not just books. He cites Marty Neumeier’s “Brand Flip” as an example of presenting traditional ideas with a fresh perspective, highlighting that thought leadership can be achieved without a book.
  • Civility and Respect in Social Media Discourse: The episode explores the dynamics of thought leadership on social media, where it can be challenging to maintain civility and respect in discussions. Robert suggests that engaging in respectful disagreement, seeking dialogue, and contributing thoughtful comments are crucial for meaningful exchanges. He underscores that these interactions can help build relationships and open doors to new audiences. This approach fosters a collaborative environment where different viewpoints are valued and respected.

Whether you publish your content in a book, on social media, or other medium it has to be clear and engaging.  Peter Winick and the team at Thought Leadership leverage can help you develop a variety of material for any medium!



Peter Winick And welcome, welcome, welcome. This is Peter Winick. I’m the founder and CEO at Thought Leadership Leverage. And you’re joining us on the podcast, which is leveraging thought leadership. Today, my guest is Robert Hargrove. He’s the founder and CEO of Masterful Coaching and the co-director of the Harvard Leadership Research Project. He’s the author of ten books, including, one of the world’s most definitive books on coaching, which is Masterful Coaching. His clients include the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, fortune 500 CEOs, European CEOs of the year. He’s been awarded the medal for, Distinguished Public Service, and he has led leadership weekends with over 30,000 people around the globe. So before we dive into the rest of his illustrious bio, I’d rather just talk to him. Business. He’s sitting right here.

Robert Hargrove Sounds very good. Who is that guy?

Peter Winick Yeah, I’m going to introduce you that guy later on. But, so short place I’d like to start is you’re not new to this world of thought, leadership, coaching, CEO work, etc., etc. you’re not new to the world of writing books, right? Sense of the changes that you’ve seen, let’s say, from when you wrote your first or second book to where the market is today. Let’s stick on the publishing side for a little bit. What’s the same and what’s different?

Robert Hargrove Well, I went into my wife had to go to the Apple Store last week, which was a really great experience. And I ran over there was there was actually a bookstore, across the way and one of these open space malls, and it was a and noble bookstore. It was really it was really great to go into. It was really beautiful, except there was only one store, one chair in the entire store, and I would feel like a person sitting into it. I guess they don’t want people using it as a library anymore. So but what I noticed about all the books on the bookshelf or the. I looked at the sections that I like business, politics, history. Was it the people that wrote those books? And the ones I saw were thought leaders? There was a book by David Petraeus, the general one, like since 1945. There was a book, by Doctor Phil about how to retrieve our soul instability in America, ten principles. There were there were, you know, quite a few books like that. It was really inspiring to look to. Then I go, I get home, and as I always do, I check my LinkedIn. Do you check LinkedIn on a regular basis? Yeah. I see all this, A to Z garbage in the gods. Yeah. Right. A lot of people who are taking stuff that that I saw in Fortune and Forbes and Businessweek 30 years ago and putting it into a cheat sheet and presenting something new or interesting, you know, absolutely no thought leadership whatsoever. Just a regurgitation.

Peter Winick Stay there for a minute. There’s a bunch there that I want to push on. So one is maybe there’s nothing new under the sun. I don’t know if I agree with that, but you made the comment that every, you know, sort of book you saw was by a thought leader. So there’s a chicken and egg issue there, right? Like, is it because they write the great book, their thought leader or cause they write, you know, their thought leader, they write the great book, right. Because I would argue, or I would actually agree with you that the folks doing the cheat sheet of, you know, Tom Peters, Search of Excellence, you probably wouldn’t hold in that same regard. Maybe there is some value in the curation they’re doing.

Robert Hargrove But one thing is, most of the people writing in GQ, I’ve never heard Tom Pierce, you know, he’s like from another generation. But I think what I was trying to say was in order 30 years ago, if you had to write a book, you had a business book, you had to be a thought leader. Here is a I just happened to have this here, my book, the first edition that came out masterful coaching. I was a thought.

Peter Winick By the way. No. To everybody else out there that’s an author. Always just happened to have your book handy.

Robert Hargrove I usually do three things. I there’s three things I’m usually missing. My book, a pen and a business card. Exactly. So, so.

Peter Winick And those of you under 40, Google business card, that’s.

Robert Hargrove A whole. So you had to you had to kind of be a thought leader. And the coaching book was designed to take coaching from the world of sports to the great game of business, because first of all, there were no executive coaches out there, and most of them were if that were out, there were just focused on psychology. So I said, like, how can we use coaching to help people realize an impossible future that’s equivalent to the Super Bowl or the NBA finals? So yeah, I’m just using that as an example. So now when I go on LinkedIn, I see these cheat sheets with warmed over re fried information. That’s sort of like 30% of the content. And another 30% of the content is people who are trying to market, who are marketing services to grow your LinkedIn, grow your brand. They and they’re getting more response than anybody else. And usually what they tell you to do is boil Shakespeare. Just ask a Schopenhauer down to a ten bullet points. If you can’t boil it down to ten bullet points and get, 15 comments and 36 likes, you’re a failure. So I think I think, what I really see is a, decided movement away from thought leadership to, to mass marketing.

Peter Winick Well, let me, let me, let me push on a couple of them.

Robert Hargrove Go ahead. No one is there.

Peter Winick Maybe. Well, there is a trend from long form to short form. So you and I probably grew up in an age where if you, you know, sort of tripped over someone in your travels, read a little nugget somewhere, an article, you’d actually buy their book and read the entire book, right? And then you would get a sense of who they are, how they think. Do I agree with them, do I not? What can I take away from it? Now, for many folks, the equivalent of how do I get a quick hit of information is I’m standing on line on Starbucks and I have 17 seconds before they call up my latte. Oh, let me educate myself and squirrel away and get a little nugget. That’s not the same, right? Because you’re not reflecting on that. You’re not internalizing those quick things as you would when you literally immerse yourself in a book. You mentioned the chairs at Barnes and Noble.

Robert Hargrove They’ve. Only once a year.

Peter Winick Right? That used to be the best. That used to be my favorite place in the world to, like, kill an hour. I hate, you know.

Robert Hargrove To be honest, I would go there and take my phone, take a picture or some page I liked.

Peter Winick I never did, but. But to sit in a comfy chair with a cup of coffee, you know, grab a book off the shelf, read it for ten minutes and go, yeah, I think I’m going to buy that, you know, or not. But anyway, so 11. I want to make is it could be that one of the challenges that thought leaders have today is you’re fighting the dopamine in the attention span. How do you get your hit your point across quickly and effectively? The second sort of reaction I’ve got to what you’re saying is you and I are both throwing the term around thought leadership. How are you defining it? Because I think oftentimes what happens is you’re having a conversation with someone around thought leadership. And, you know, they’re talking about pepperoni pizza and you’re talking about ice cream. So how do you how would you define it?

Robert Hargrove I think I think thought leadership has to do with presenting a big idea or one, two, three, four big ideas that when you communicate that idea, it’s eye opening. It’s, brain tangling, it’s paradigm shifting.

Peter Winick Do they have to be proprietary? New, unique? Your idea?

Robert Hargrove I don’t think it really has to be. I actually don’t think it has to be original, but it has to be. It has to be a little different or better than what was out there. For example, I, read a book a couple of weeks ago by Marty Neumeier. Have you ever heard of him? Yeah. He wrote a book called The Brand Flip, and he flipped around the idea of what is this is an example of thought leadership. Most people think that a brand is your logo or your brand of your Superbowl, or your brand is your advertising. He said that a brand is actually the gut feeling that people have inside them. About you. What’s the gut feeling? Yeah. So when you start thinking that a brand is the gut feeling that people have inside them about you, your company, your products and services, that that thought changes the way you think about your business. It changes the way you think about strategy. Think of the way you think about Strat.

Peter Winick I think you’re right. I think, you know, there’s a vibe that you get walking into a Walmart that’s aligned with the brand Walmart at Walmart. How much stuff can you get, how cheaply versus Apple, which is cool and slick and clean. And everyone that is serving you knows the product, is an evangelist and loves the product, as do typically most Apple users.

Robert Hargrove I well, I mentioned I went into the Apple Store with my wife.

Peter Winick Right?

Robert Hargrove And I had a really great experience in there, just the way that all the employees talk to us. We actually had a problem with their iPhone. We had a great no, I don’t ever see any Apple ads anyplace. But the way that company interacted with us gave us a very good gut feeling. So what I’m saying is, I don’t see a lot of thought leadership on, social media. I see a lot more thought leadership in the bookstore. And I think there’s still probably, though it may be difficult a market for books that contains thought leadership. Last week I read a story by Tom, by, Tom Friedman, the columnist in the New York Times. And because I’m in that interview, I said, hey, well, your articles are a little bit long. He said, well, The New York Times has 10 million viewers, 10 million readers. If you write something that’s good enough that contains thought leadership, then people are going to read it. So I’m more along that.

Peter Winick I would say yes, I.

Robert Hargrove May didn’t make a. I don’t know.

Peter Winick I would say yes. And I think it’s some of it is personal preference where, you know, there’s. Those that will watch a Ted talk 18 minutes, 12 minutes, whatever and say, wow, that’s awesome. And then choose to go deeper by the book, you know, read 400 pages, whatever. And then there were those that will read the book and make that commitment. But I got.

Robert Hargrove A good point. Let me just insert that. Yeah, you don’t have to. You don’t want to be a thought leader. You don’t have to have a book. You could have, you could give a speech, a Ted talk. You could be on this podcast, you could write a post, you could do a lot of different things.

Peter Winick But. 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 at

Peter Winick So I want to go back to some of the language you were using around definition of thought leadership is, you know, unique ideas, interesting ideas, etc.. So I look at it as sort of two. There’s two sides to the coin. There’s thought. So regurgitating someone else’s stuff might be useful to some, but it doesn’t require a lot of thought. Right. For me to go and Google ten Winston Churchill quotes. They might be charming and they might be witty and they might, you know, whatever. Be new and an eye opening to someone that’s never seen them. But that doesn’t require any thought on my behalf. Right.

Robert Hargrove And that’s just.

Peter Winick Hacking. Right. And then the leadership piece and I think this is more where you are going is it also doesn’t take any leadership or any courage. It would take more leadership for me to take some Winston Churchill quotes and say, wow. And here’s where he totally got it wrong. Or here’s where I agree and add something to the thinking. So that’s that. I think that leadership piece is missing for many words.

Robert Hargrove And that’s a good point you made because I notice on social media it’s very difficult. You’re not supposed to say anybody did anything wrong or anybody had the right didn’t have the right idea.

Peter Winick No, I don’t actually agree with that. I think that the I think there’s a lot of operating the opportunity to do that, but you have to do it in a simple way, like if you write something and I don’t agree with it, my first response, right. Yeah, right. Robert’s a moron, which is what people do on social. It’s to be, hey Robert, appreciate the, you know, the energy and the and the work you put into this. But let me tell you where my thinking diverges from yours. And why not just, you know, opinionated, whatever, but you got this right. And here’s where I think a little bit differently. And whether my objective is to convince you to change your mind, which it shouldn’t be, or just share my thoughts. I think part of what’s missing is the civility in an exchange of ideas.

Robert Hargrove Let me let me build on your idea a little bit. I came across an interesting post on LinkedIn the other day by Ray Dalio, the hedge fund manager who wrote a book on principles. He’s become so popular, he’s become like the Timothy Leary of 2024.

Peter Winick Transparency. Yeah.

Robert Hargrove Right. So he said there are two there are three kinds of people. The first is people who take a stand in. Our society is on the verge of a of a Civil War American on the verge of a civil war. So there’s three types of people. The first is people who take a stand for one side and fight, he says. The second is people who avoid, who pretend the conflict isn’t happening and avoid it. And he said, the third kind is coming to what you’re saying here is people who nurture a respectful dialog, he said. The very kind and the feeling you have, which is the fewest number, are people who nurture a respectful dialog, with people on the other side and build shared, who have a different view or perspective and shared understanding that leads to something new. So that’s what I think that to me was an example of thought leadership. Yeah.

Peter Winick No, I think that’s right. I think, you know, one of the things I counsel my clients to do is, you know, you mentioned, you know, you don’t have to write a book. I agree with that. I mean, many thought leaders do. There are plenty of other ways to express your ideas. One of the things that I advise clients to do early on is, you know, go find others out there in a space that you’re in that you admire, that you respect, etc. and put thoughtful comments on their post. Because think about the audience that person has, right? It’s smart people following someone they admire. And you know, a comment that says, hey, nice post, Robert is meaningless to me. That’s filler. That means nothing. But if it’s hey, I really enjoyed it and here’s why. Or like I said earlier, I don’t agree with you and here’s why. People start to notice, like, hey, who’s this guy commenting? Or who’s this gal commenting a lot? They actually have a perspective. And sometimes those conversations that happen in the commentary on social are equal to or better than the original post. If you get some good engaging respecting.

Robert Hargrove Actually to again to build on your idea. I’ve been using that. Same approach. On social media, I, posting left and commenting more. Yeah, this creates a relationship with people. And following your example in doing just I would recommend to any of your, to your audience. By the way, let me ask you a personal question. When you’re on this podcast, how do I refer to the audience? Because I prefer to say you, I’m talking to you, or do I refer to the audience as the audience, which is a kind of third person account or.

Peter Winick Whatever you prefer? I mean, my, my, my. One of my visions for the podcast has always been. It would be like if the two of us were sitting in a Starbucks in person, having a cup of coffee and a conversation, and the person sitting next to us was sort of eavesdropping. That’s always been like, it’s just a good conversation.

Robert Hargrove Well, I think you’re absolutely right. And as you were talking, that’s what I was thinking. Let me just take off on this a little bit. So I’m somewhat new to podcasting, and I had it in my mind that in order to do a podcast, you have to have something brilliant to say every second and every word.

Peter Winick Because I’m far from brilliant, far from.

Robert Hargrove Every word that comes out of your mouth has to be of value. And I said, and I’m starting to tend to realize that the most important thing is how you and I interact. Like your Starbucks example is fantastic. And secondly, not how brilliant what I’m saying is, but what how brilliant the thoughts the people having in their own head are. How are we impacting other people’s thinking? So as we’re talking, I hope people out there are taking this on board and really in what we’re saying is really helping them.

Peter Winick Yeah. And it’s a little bit of, you know, show your work in math, right. If I gave you a math problem, you give me the answer. But now the way kids are taught math is show the work and the showing of the work. Meaning the showing of the thinking is as important or greater or more important than did they get the answer right? Right.

Robert Hargrove How did. That’s exactly what I was trying to express, but not as articulate as objectively as you. You’re a podcast maestro. I can tell a maestro. Well, I appreciate podcast. I’m a CEO whisperer. And you’re a podcast maestro, CEO and entrepreneur. How is that?

Peter Winick I like that. I like we.

Robert Hargrove And I’m sure that as people are listening to this, something that that you said or I said, open someone’s eyes but open their mind, shift their paradigm. At least I hope that’s what’s going. Yeah.

Peter Winick And I think that’s kind of the whole point is, you know, so I listen to podcast all the time. I’m at the gym, in the car, whatever. And I don’t need to agree or disagree with everything I hear. I want to get a nugget. I want to get an insight. I want to get something that that sort of shakes me out of the intellectual transport.

Robert Hargrove You. Yeah. Tell me, who are some of your favorite podcasts that you listen to? I’m talking like.

Peter Winick Some of the behavioral economics stuff. I like Malcolm Gladwell, I like Adam Grant, like NPR. I mean, yeah, and then some of the, the, what do they call those, like the mini series that they do, but usually more anything in Katie milkman. So I tend to gravitate towards the sort of fun, dorky academics that can actually make a point in nonacademic language. Originals - Adam Grant

Robert Hargrove You know, again, we have something in common. I, I really like Adam Grant. I’m always quoting his book, The Originals. Yeah. How Non-conformists Move the World. That’s a that’s a thought leadership angle. I want I consider myself an original, not a conformist. It’s not always easy to be original. I like, Malcolm Gladwell stuff, but I actually find their writing much more brilliant than their podcasts.

Peter Winick Yeah, and there’s some that go the other way. There’s some that the writing is dry, but the way they bring it to, like, I’m an awful I mean, the reason I focus so much of my time and energy on the podcast is, quite frankly, because I’m a crappy writer. I used to do a lot of blogs that are good. They they’d be mediocre and most. This is where you.

Robert Hargrove Listen to, that galley. Wait, what? What do you. I shouldn’t ask you what you feel about, but. What? How do you feel like.

Peter Winick I you know, I think sometimes it’s overly theatrical, but I think he’s really smart, and I like it. And I like the guests that he has on there. That’s one of my regulars.

Robert Hargrove Now, let me ask you a question. Now, aside from these podcasts, what are you trying to do and how could I help you? I have no one to ask you that.

Peter Winick I know people ask me. I mean, as it relates to the podcast, this is great. I’m just looking.

Robert Hargrove Forward to your business and to the podcast and your business in general.

Peter Winick Yeah. I mean, to me the podcast is about having great conversations. It’s one selfishly, it’s a way for me to learn every time I have a conversation with people smarter than me. You buy yourself a microphone for 80 bucks and you’re a podcaster now, I haven’t picked the episode, so I’ve actually committed to it. So, you know, if people learn from it, people take something away and ultimately down the road at some point, if they need some help, then they maybe they come back.

Robert Hargrove So that’s the can come back for a lot more podcasts.

Peter Winick Well, more podcast or ultimately to, you know, retain myself and or the firm, you know, my company to help them crack the code in their thought leadership, how to scale it, how to leverage it, how to monetize it. All the things that I spend all day doing with clients.

Robert Hargrove Oh, yeah, I think you told me you’re very good at helping people who are thought leaders of, of maybe built on an individual, coaching or consulting practice, scale their business.

Peter Winick Yeah, exactly, exactly. But we can return to an infomercial at another time, because I tend not to self-promote on here. I appreciate your time as we’re wrapping up, Robert, because we’re hitting the magic, bottom of the 20 minutes here. Any tips or thoughts to someone who’s on the trajectory that you are on 20 years ago? So maybe to yourself, 20, 25 years ago, there’s a…

Robert Hargrove Well, you know, I would say, you know, you look at this, this book master coaching. Right. A book that has some thought leadership. Don’t write a book by ChatGPT that just has an outline and a bunch of bullet points. Okay. The second would apply to a speech or a podcast or anything else.

Peter Winick But people have to put in their reps. Yeah, exactly. Thank you so much. I appreciate your time today. Robert.

Robert Hargrove This was awesome. Thank you.

Peter Winick To learn more about Thought Leadership Leverage, please visit our website at to reach me directly. Feel free to email me at Peter at, and please subscribe to Leveraging Thought Leadership on iTunes or your favorite podcast app to get your weekly episode automatically.


Peter Winick has deep expertise in helping those with deep expertise. He is the CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Peter on Twitter!

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