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Raising the Consciousness of Thought Leadership | Sean M Doyle

Raising the Consciousness of Thought Leadership. | Sean M Doyle | 379

How thought leaders can raise consciousness about their work, and move from theoretical to applied.

An interview with Sean M Doyle about raising consciousness to get better traction with thought leadership.

When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing nobody!

It can be a hard pill to swallow, but 99.9% of the world isn’t interested in your thought leadership. Focusing on a vast, wide audience only ends up wasting your time – and might cause you to miss the people who really need your content. When you figure out what the 0.1% needs from you, and how you can serve them, that’s when the magic happens.

Today’s guest is Sean M Doyle, Sean is a speaker and advisor helping small-business owners improve their marketing so that they can increase sales and work with more profitable customers. He is also the author of Shift: 19 Practical, Business-Driven Ideas for an Executive in Charge of Marketing but Not Trained for the Task

We talk with Sean about what a thought leadership practitioner can do when great ideas just don’t get traction, and what to do to boost them. He also discusses how thought leaders are their own harshest critics, and why content needs to be bespoke if it is really going to reach and connect with a target audience.

Over the last two years, we’ve seen massive changes in the speaking industry. Sean shares insights into the changes speakers have had to make in order to thrive in this new environment. No longer are generic speeches acceptable, nor can speakers rely on choreographed music, lights, or entrance to create energy. To succeed, speakers must have strong content, clear talking points, and shining authenticity.

If you want insight into ways that thought leadership practitioners can raise consciousness, uplift ideas that haven’t reached their pinnacle, and make a difference to clients, you’ll want to listen to this episode.

Three Key Takeaways:
  • Thought leaders are often the worst judge of their own content, due to stubbornness or ego.
  • Thought leadership should be bespoke and feel personal to your audience.
  • Once you recognize and understand patterns in people, you can use thought leadership to reach them and create long-lasting culture change.

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.

Listen on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts!



Peter Winick And welcome, welcome, welcome, this is Peter Winick, I’m the founder and CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage, and you’re joining us on the podcast, which is Leveraging Thought Leadership today.

Peter Winick My guest is Sean M. Doyle, and I love the short bio. I’ll give you an I get into a little bit as Trump describes himself as a writer, a thinker, a speaker and a consultant. So right in our alley, he spent 27 years running a B2B sales and marketing consultancy. He’s worked in over – worked with over 5000 sales and marketing consulting engagements over his 30 year career. He’s an author of a book called Shift 19 Practical, Business Driven Ideas for an executive in charge of marketing but not trained for the task. We’ve seen this movie. So anyway. Welcome aboard, John. You check all the boxes of fun, folks we like to talk with, so I’ll ask you sort of one of my favorite first questions is, you know, how the hell did you get here? Like, obviously it was linear and logical and deliberate and planned.

Sean M. Doyle Oh wow. Well, gosh, I was orphaned in Siberia. No, I don’t have anything that interesting. Yeah, no. I was born the son of an admission director, which if you’re ever in the college admission, world, then you know, that really is marketing and sales. And I grew up with communication, arts and all those kind of classic magazines laying around and just listening to sales. And how do you how do you recruit and get people in and those kind of conversations? And just was fascinated with that and went through a journey of going into the fine arts world. Actually, I have a degree in photography, which is absolutely useless. It’s fun, though. It’s fun. I’m now a grandfather, so I’m kind of loving that again, but we realized I wanted to be – when the art department voted me “most likely to be a business major.” I thought maybe they were signaling something. So I went over to the dean of the business school and said, “Hey, I’m not going to be a photographer. Help me figure this out.” And ended up with this career in marketing and sales and have loved it. Probably the most pivotal moment that adds any value to your listener and I think is the promise for today was in 2002, when I went from running marathons to couldn’t walk the stairs of the house and had to understand – or, had to get diagnosed with a really serious chronic illness. And I’ve done really well. I’m doing well today, and here I am. But through that journey, I learned about James Prochaska’s Theoretical Theorem of Behavioral Change. Okay, all your listeners just went to sleep.

Peter Winick Right? Right.

Sean M. Doyle And it’s an incredible book. Changing for Good is the layman’s version of the research and the science, and it changed everything about the way I understand what I do when I’m helping people with sales and marketing. So it gives me a point of view. That’s not just some marketing schmuck who thinks something or other, but it’s a science based. It’s a proven behavioral science model that we apply. So it helps me understand. And in fact, I was thinking about today, Peter and thinking about what your listeners are all really smart people. I’m not going to outsmart anybody, but I think I have some idea, you know, everybody has had some peace of thought leadership that didn’t get traction. I’m going to be really transparent today, right? I’ve had thought leadership that didn’t get any traction in the marketplace the way I knew it should because I knew it was a good idea. And that’s what I’d love to talk to you about today.

Peter Winick So, because yeah, so let’s stay there for a minute, because I think that’s an interesting piece. I think that by and large, we are the worst judges of what will stick and what won’t. Like so there is something that you toil over for weeks or months or you have this epiphany in the shower, you think, Oh my God, this is going to, you know, this is my world is realm theory, and this is going to be it. And then you put it out there and then there’s crickets. And then there’s other times you put something out and you’re like, I’m almost embarrassed to hit send because this is like, you know, a drunken tweet. It doesn’t really, you know, whatever, but I got to get something out and you put it out there. And that’s the thing. I don’t know if we’re allowed to say “go viral” anymore post COVID or –

Sean M. Doyle You’re not, you’re not.

Peter Winick But, that’s the thing that explodes and you’re like, “Geez, OK.” and so to me, I think that traction is I think there’s two sides to this. There’s the what can you do to accelerate and increase the traction, but also not be so damn stubborn and say, listen, when the market tells you something, shut up and listen,

Sean M. Doyle I’m going to move past stubborn. I think it’s egotistical. I’m going to go ahead and punch everybody in the nose, right? So I can remember the exact story that you’re talking about where I got invited to speak at a conference in Denver. I was a young guy and young speaker, and I was so excited and it was before I learned that the guy that speaks that at noon on Friday is the lowest level, worst guy because ain’t nobody coming.

Peter Winick So he doesn’t show up the valet parker is going to do kumbaya.

Sean M. Doyle Right? And it will probably be just as good.

Peter Winick Yeah. And just as well attended.

Sean M. Doyle Well, I. So I’m sitting in front of this room after laboring, working, thinking, writing, reading da da da da da. And there’s, you know, five people there. I guess they had late flights and nothing better to do or lack of curiosity or imagination.

Peter Winick Might have been homeless, right?

Sean M. Doyle So there was free coffee, so that could have been it. So that’s a humbling moment. But I think the thing is that all that time I was thinking about myself. That’s why nobody came. I mean, yeah, the time slot was terrible. But I, if I would have been thinking about other people, if I would have been having a conversation that was relevant to them, I could have worn a T-shirt to the talk and it could have been the worst timeslot. It should have been the best attended. I think the one of the things we’ve got to do as thought leaders is get out of our own way and quit talking to ourselves. You know, the maxim, the joke, at least that we say is in life people who talk to themselves, we call crazy, in business, we call it marketing, right?

Peter Winick So but stay there for a minute. So I think that back in the days and they weren’t all that long ago where there was a lot of speaking out there. Right. So a lot of conferences, people doing 50 100 gigs a year or whatever. We’re not back there yet. Who knows if we ever get back there? That’s a whole nother conversation. But there were a lot of keynoter that did what I would call a drive by keynotes. You know, they show up 20 minutes before the event. Pop on the mic, go in. Hello, ladies and gentlemen from, you know, fill in the blank. Cleveland, you know, and I hope, you know, blah blah blah. They use the word customer instead of client. And it felt like, you know, not bespoke, to say the least. It felt like they were, you know, rushed there. You know, it’s about them. Let me show you how great I am, and they hold up their New York Times bestselling book and tell you about their accolades and blah blah blah. And I think those days are largely over for those folks. It’s the other focus speaker, the speaker that gets up there and says, Listen, there’s lots of things I’ve done, but what can I give you today? We have an hour together, and here’s what I thought would be a value to you and why. And I’ve done my homework and I know about the trials and tribulations and the history and the heritage and the culture of your organization.

Sean M. Doyle Yeah, it’s just lazy to do that, right? It’s laziness. And my friend Scott True, Agent Scott True at the Secret Service, asked me a question once like, How do you think we trained to identify fake dollar bills or fake $100 bills? And I said, Well, you know, you study the best people, the best forgers, you learn from them. And actually, that’s wrong. You don’t use all you study is the real thing. So, you know, as humans, we’re taught, right. We learn who the fakers are. We learn who the scumbag sales guy is. We learn who the bad speakers are. And we can spot a fake because we know the authentic thing when we see it. And that’s why some people have such resonance. That’s why some people are just – we’re drawn to them. It’s not that we’ve been taught. We’ve seen the fakes and the Secret Service has seen the fakes, but they know how to identify the real thing just like we do as humans, right? So we I love to

Peter Winick So, stay there, there for a minute because I think that that theme – during COVID. Right, so a great keynote or someone that’s great at anything mastered the art of keynote, so everything about that was choreographed perfectly. The music that set the tone when you walked into the ballroom. Yeah, that’s energy. The lights, when the lights come up, when they walk, the, you know, all that sort of stuff. And then all of a sudden the rug gets taken out from under all of us and we’re thrown into Zoom world. And what we realized at first is like, Oh, oh, you know, Sean’s not wearing a suit and tie. Oh, Sean’s looking pretty casual this house today. Oh, it’s like, Oh, actually, he still has a lot to say. Like, actually, it’s kind of neat seeing, you know, Ooh, look at him is a native environment. It’s like rented the zoo of Sean. You know what I mean? Right, right? This authenticity piece has become a big deal right now, and I don’t I don’t see that going back to that more formal, you know, if I’m in my office, I have to act and believe and behave a certain way.

Sean M. Doyle I told my wife the other day that I’ve got upstairs of my closet. I’ve got probably a dozen suits that at least 10 of them just need to go away. I’ll never work again. So, yeah, I think that spotting that authentic thing and we definitely do dress ourselves up emotionally, physically and intellectually, right the looking over head and saying, Welcome Cleveland. You know, that’s a quick, a very shallow dress up that I cared enough about you to come prepared. And you know, what’s worse is the band or the speaker who says, Welcome Cleveland, but they’re in Dallas, right? They’re not there.

Peter Winick Yeah.

Sean M. Doyle So, yeah. It’s a real challenge. So, yeah, I think if we got if we could quit talking to ourselves, people are smart. They recognize a fake and really talking to yourself is boring. The worst data ever had in my life was with I won’t name the state, so I don’t get in trouble, but I got to go out with miss fill in the blank. In college, it was the worst day of my life. She was beautiful. Other people were sending the woman drinks, which was a little offensive to me. But, you know, it’s like a signal that you’re with somebody pretty attractive. But it was a horrible day. I would never, you know, about an hour in, I was like, This was a huge mistake. I don’t think she noticed it was a huge mistake. She didn’t even notice me. I wasn’t even there. Right. The subject was her, and that was the only thing that we could talk about. Well, that’s if that’s your thought leadership, then that’s boring.

Peter Winick That’s a point.

Peter Winick 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 us a review and share it with your friends. We’re available on Apple Podcasts and on all major listening apps, as well as at Thought Leadership Leverage dot com forward slash podcasts.

Peter Winick Stay on that as it relates to the thought leadership, because I think that a legitimate challenge that a lot of thought leaders have is they may very well be literally the smartest person in the universe or one of the top 20 in their space. Whatever that space may be, right, it could be resilience and creativity, and it doesn’t matter, but they’re clearly top of their game. They might be a bit introverted, so they might be a bit. I don’t want to say shy because they’re probably not shy. But how do you develop the capabilities to be so other focused right to say, Wait a minute, I’ve got all this domain expertise. What is Shaun doing? How do you know? What is the problem that he needs to solve that I can be helpful with?

Sean M. Doyle Yeah, that’s great. That’s a incredibly valuable question. So I’ve got two answers to it. The first one is, I would call it the art of the second question. So once you even learn to ask the question right to say, Hey, this is what I like to learn from you, the first question is good. You know, there what was, you know, what was for breakfast? What was, you know, was the biggest thing that’s worrying you. Whatever the that question is, the second question is the newest insight, right? The art of the second question. Once you get that answer, now you’ve got a framework and that that first question allows me to understand a little bit of where you’re coming from. Now, if I’m smart, I can use that and identify the second question. So it forces me as a as a listener, whether I’m a speaker and an audience before an event or if I’m interviewing somebody. If I can listen to ask the first question which is going to be by nature is going to have to come from my expertise because I know something that you should know. So I run a marketing and sales consultancy, right? So if somebody calls and says, Hey, do you want to run your business more efficiently? I shut down because that’s boring. That’s a boring question. And if somebody says,

Peter Winick Oh, it’s a stupid question, no, it is unlikely to be as inefficient as the least amount of efficiency is right. Are we to keep the doors open

Sean M. Doyle And someone’s been asked that been taught to answer that question? I’d say a poor, a poor sales coach or a poor marketer has taught them to say those stupid questions. But you know what a better question when someone calls and says, Hey, what? What is your billing per FTE if it’s over $200 per FTE, $250000 per? You’re one of the highest performing agencies in the country, if you’re under that, I’ve got some expertise that could help you get there. Are you interested in that conversation now and you’ve spoken to me like, that’s a metric I know that’s something I watch. It’s a benchmark. It gives me the ability to look at others. I’m interested now in a conversation. I’ll take that call because that second question was about me, not about you saying, you know, I’ve got expertise. Let me tell you about me. You know, I’m asking a question about you and your business, and that’s fascinating to me. That’s so that that second question, if I say yes now, the question can turn right now, the question can be, well, how many efforts do you have? What do you think the problem is why? What’s the best you’ve ever performed, you know, and that’s where that juicy insight is going to come from.

Peter Winick That’s going to get a much richer conversation than much being on the receiving end of someone’s on bullet point number five. I was recently on a call with someone in there and they were walking us through their deck and I said, OK, I got it. No need you like, I knew there were 11 more pages to go. I’ve got three questions for you and they couldn’t get off the deck like deck. OK, I’ll get to your questions, but that’s on Page 17. I’m like, No, I’ve got the question now. Like, I got it. Like, I don’t need you need that crutch of the deck. I want to stay on where you went, though. So I think for a lot of thought leaders staying on the let’s call it the theoretical, the science of were the, you know, the gravity of that’s their comfort zone. That’s what they know. They’ve researched, they know whatever. But being able to sort of in the moment in an improbable way, move it to applied for Sean in this moment. Right now, that takes a lot of work like that question that you just put out there immediately. I can envision someone going 250000 per head. Hmm. Do I even know what that number is? Oh, whoops, that’s a problem, right? Oh, if that number is lower, how much lower is it close? If the number is a lot higher, I’m going. I’m great. Right? Like, call me right. And help would start doing some math in their head, which means you were at least engage in a conversation. So, so tell me how you develop those. Let’s call the improv skills to take it from the theoretical to the applied, because theoretically, the encyclopedia that stays on the shelf, who cares?

Sean M. Doyle Exactly so. But we’ve all been taught as keynoter or as thought leaders to to teach principles. I love listening to Dan Ariely. Talking about the principles is incredible. Here’s this one my bucket list is to meet him one day. There’s a short list of them, and here’s definitely high on it. Fascinating, fascinating person. Now the book is great. It’s most recently it’s sitting over there and it’s, you know, how do I apply it? That’s a whole separate question. So and I think there’s a challenge in saying as a thought leader, is your job to find application or is it to frame the question? And I think the behavioral science journey will inform this. So if you want, if you’re intent as a thought leader is to help people change their behavior to do something a different way, then you need to understand the journey that it goes on, that somebody goes on. So in the beginning, I think one of the reasons a lot of thought leadership doesn’t get any traction. One, the conversations about yourself, not the other person. The second thing is, and this is a key in marketing and sales awareness is not the problem. Typically, people don’t need more awareness. The Ford Edsel did not need more awareness, right? Everybody in the country knew the Ford Edsel was out. What? So what happened? They spent more money did a equation. Why? Since I don’t remember the number, but it was billions in today’s dollars their marketing campaign, but didn’t work right. So what was wrong wasn’t awareness. So I think the key is something called consciousness raising. So there’s a difference between being something is aware and raising my consciousness. So if you can, as a thought leader, help people raise consciousness, for example, go back to the 250000 per FTE billing ratio. Well, that raised my consciousness. You just said it raised your consciousness, right? You know? Oh, wow, I’m underperforming. I’m ever performing. I was not even a metric I use, you know? That’s yeah, I haven’t. I hadn’t even framed that idea. So a great thought leader raises consciousness, not creates awareness now to get somebody through the journey of moving to change behavior. There’s many steps, right? So most good thought leaders will take people through emotional arousal. They’re going to get people excited emotionally. They’re going to get they’re going to force people to rationally reevaluate, like, Hey, if I if I could get to that number, we could bill more. We could. Maybe I could make mark. You get the Lake House. I could go down to the beach with famous people, you know, like Peter. So we could have all kinds of amazing things going on. And then later stage, there’s things that will matter, like countering. Here’s a different way. Here’s how you could approach that behavior. Here’s a reward for approaching that behavior. Here is helping behaviors. Here’s helping relationships as consultants. Your business is – actually you took me through that journey on your website because I didn’t really understand what you did. I’m pretty interested in your – you’re offering now, because I didn’t. I’ve been that guy with the thought leadership and what I read, your promise is, “Help me from a third party point of view, pull all this stuff together into codified brand, singular-focus position.

Peter Winick So it’s – is interesting that you say that, not to show about my site, although I appreciate that, is that I did a piece recently and it was based on a couple of interactions with clients and such where I think the almost the highest level compliment you can get as a thought leader is you produced this piece. Video, audio, a book or an article, whatever. And it felt like you did it. Just for me, it felt like almost as you know, almost if it was so bespoke. It was an email summarizing a call or a meeting we had. But I read this article that you wrote, and oh my god, that’s me. You get me, you understand it, whatever. And I think that is a challenge that thought leaders have, where far too often they try to speak to everyone. And when you’re trying to please everyone, you please no one, right? And if you know who your clients are, who the avatars are, who that very, you know, I’m a realist. Ninety nine point ninety nine percent of the world couldn’t care if we existed or not as a business. That 0.0001, whatever that math is, we stay up all day and night thinking, how do we connect with them? How do we become relevant to them? How do we serve them. Right?

Sean M. Doyle And, and – right. So I always say the positioning is the foundation upon which all sales and marketing occurs, and that’s what you just said. So that narrow, that narrow view, that understanding of us, of a piece of the world, gives you the ability to recognize patterns. Once you recognize patterns, then you can write that insightful article that does reach a group where they go, “Wow, you can see in my soul.” You know, I mean, I think one thing over time that I’ve learned that it’s an incredibly frustrating is really how simple we are as people.

Peter Winick I mean, we’re not complicated.

Sean M. Doyle How is it that you could take a disk task or, you know, any of the personality task or work styles? I mean, ask 10 questions and then you go , Oh, wait. How did you know that about me? I just answered 10 simple questions, you know? And that tells me that there’s patterns across humanity. There’s patterns across people. And you know that that understanding that niche, that thought leadership applied to, I think that bridges. Then it starts to bridge that question of how do you take concepts and help people with the application? I also think that one reason you hire a consultant is the nuances of that application, because the complexity of the world is simple as people are, the complexity of the world requires thought in how to change the culture, to change people. So that’s where that app, that’s where that, well, that’s where it is worth spending money on a consultant. I think a good thought leader raises consciousness and then they might demonstrate emotional and rational ways that it’ll make a difference to you. And then at some point you’ve got to have practical help in this cause because you move into the, you know, out of the app, out of the principal and into the application.

Peter Winick Yup. And I think it will wrap at a moment here that a helpful way to get there, which is sort of counterintuitive, is the more constraints that you have, perhaps more it helps, right? If you put constraints and say, I only care about, you know, whatever mid-cap technology companies on their third round of funding that are going through these sort of things. OK. That’s a really, really tight constraint, but you can go really, really deep on. Well, what are their challenges? Is that hiring as a panel? Is it raising that like whatever? There’s only five or six things that really, really, really, really matter to them and you can nail it.

Sean M. Doyle So the Academy of Landscape Architecture did a study that – took a corner lot.

Peter Winick That’s not the academy they thank at the Oscars, is it, is a different academy?

Sean M. Doyle I think it’s a different one. I was just – yeah, it involves more plants. Yeah, OK. They took a corner a lot in the neighborhood on a busy intersection, and they put a playground and kind of the back corner and watched 30 40 kids play and those kids kind of stayed around the playground. Then they put up boundaries, they put a perimeter, they put up a fence and then they put another 20 30 kids out and watch them play. Those kids played out to the edges. They played in the pool area, right, because there was safety. So there’s a human truth to what you just said, Peter. There is a human truth to the idea that boundaries increase creativity. Boundaries increase effectiveness. It makes your playground bigger. We, I think, are sinful. If want to get into theology, let’s go, man. But our sinful self says, you know, I don’t want those boundaries. That’s just going to constrain me

Peter Winick I need my freedom. Yeah, right. Right?

Sean M. Doyle Yeah. Oh, and I hate it. Listen, there’s a guy that spent his life in marketing and sales. If I see one more client come in, say, we need blue sky thinking. Like, that’s the worst advice ever.

Peter Winick Outside the box, let’s go outside the box. I don’t want -.

Sean M. Doyle I need a box. Give me a box. You know, I need to know your financial constraints. I need to know your resources. I need to know what you’re capable of. I need to know what your customer buys. I need to know what you’re willing to spend. Execute this. I need to know all this stuff. I’m working for a $100 million company that wants 25 percent net income basis, and I made a huge mistake or growth, not basis, 25 percent growth. I made a huge mistake in not clearly identifying what the resources were available. Come to find out they don’t have enough of a sales team to execute on that, and they don’t have any marketing infrastructure to execute on that. So –

Peter Winick It’s all told.

Sean M. Doyle And that is it.

Peter Winick Thank you, Sean. This has been fantastic. I appreciate your time and your insight, and this has been great. Thank you so much.

Sean M. Doyle Peter, I hope this added value to your listeners. You have a great podcast. Love listening.

Peter Winick Thank you. To learn more about Thought Leadership Leverage, please visit our web site 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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