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Are You an Overworked Thought Leader?

Chaperones and Chauffeurs

When people “lean in” around your ideas, you start smiling broadly. You’re likely to be as excited as any proud parent. Your ideas are getting out in the world; they’re making some impact.

My how they’ve grown!

And then the painful reality sets in. Ideas often get stuck in an awkward “tween” phase where they rely on you to take them everywhere. Sure, you’re not literally driving your ideas across town to sporting events and music practice. However, if you’re evangelizing your ideas, then you’re probably busy delivering workshops, making presentations, and giving speeches.

Soon, you feel exhausted. You’ve become the dedicated chaperone and chauffeur to your ideas. When you’re successful, you simply spend more and more time on the road. If you take a day off, then your ideas remain idle.

The Cycle of Dependency

Like parenting, thought leadership isn’t a short-term commitment. Newborn ideas are very dependent on thought leaders for their caregiving and development. And even with the best ideas, it takes time for them to mature and assume their place in the world.

Many thought leaders have unconsciously created a cycle of dependency within their business model. They must personally be active in the market to spread their ideas and generate revenue.

Workshops and speeches are both high-touch and high-ticket products. But they rely on your magic to bring them to life
Books, blogs, and podcasts are lower-touch and more scalable efforts. Unfortunately, they require a massive upfront time commitment. They also yield limited direct financial gain. The days of large book advances are long gone in today’s fragmented business book market.

Many thought leaders mistakenly allow their ideas to remain in a permanent state of adolescence. These “tween” ideas never reach maturity—instead they hang around like aging thirty-somethings in their parents’ basement.

At some point, thought leaders—the disillusioned parents of these permanently immature ideas—reach a moment of epiphany and ask themselves, “Where did I go wrong?”

Parenting 101 for Thought Leaders

There are many ways to define mature thought leadership. However, I use a very simple standard.

“If you’re not personally in the room, actively driving the idea, how far will it go?”

Mature ideas don’t need you to hold their hand and escort them to their first day of school.

Don’t Treat Your Ideas Like Children

In most cases, kids naturally develop and seek greater autonomy. However ideas (even the best ideas) naturally gravitate towards dependency. Therefore, you need to take charge and push your ideas towards maturity.

Practice Emotional Detachment

As a thought leader, you likely have a natural passion for your ideas. That’s great, but occasionally, you need to examine your ideas and content very critically. How well can you separate yourself from your ideas? What can you do to make your ideas more successful when you’re not in the room with them?

Make the Right Investments

Ideas, like children, are expensive to raise, and you have to make tough financial choices on where to spend your dollars. You can pour an unending stream of dollars into brand identities, photo shoots, and loosely-defined marketing campaigns, but those investments produce rapidly diminishing returns. Instead, make investments in three areas—scalability, sustainability, and stickiness.

When Ideas Leave the Nest

Some thought leaders fear that they will experience empty nest syndrome when their ideas mature and take on a life on their own. However, successful thought leaders put themselves in a position where they can make choices.

  • Choose to deliver the content;
  • Spend time developing the business (or new content);
  • Relax on the beach; or
  • Spend more time with family and friends.

When your thought leadership content hasn’t reached maturity, you’re a helicopter parent, attending to every detail and nuance. But when you have mature content, you get your life back. Cut those ties and take that first step towards the beach.

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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