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Top 3 Motivators for Becoming a Thought Leader

If you were to ask what one-hundred six year olds want to be when they grow up, they’ll eagerly shout a chorus of professions: firefighters, artists, doctors, teachers, and astronauts. However, I’m sure that even among the most precocious children, you wouldn’t hear a single small but confident voice announce to the world “when I grow up, I’m going to be a thought leader!”

In our observation, there are three primary motivators—ego, money, and evangelism—which will nudge someone toward becoming a thought leader.


Ego-childLet’s talk about the narcissists. Admittedly, there are some insufferable narcissists who choose thought leadership so they can stand center-stage under the brightest lights. They need to position themselves as the smartest, prettiest people in any room. But, our experience says that most thought leaders don’t suffer from narcissistic personality disorder.

Instead, let’s consider people who have a strong but healthy sense of self. This confidence can inspire a thought leader’s intellectual curiosity around a topic, fuel their desire to share their insights, or even give them the courage to take big risks. After all, thought leaders have to share their ideas with the world and invite debate; they can’t be wilting violets.

Interestingly, some thought leaders choose their path because they’ve experienced a setback in life. Perhaps they got passed over for a high-profile project or a career-advancing opportunity and said, “I’m not going to let that happen to me again.”

Maybe their circumstances led them here, but it’s their confidence and strength of personality that’s driving every discussion, engagement, and keynote.


Money-childMoney motivates every thought leader, but it manifests in vastly different degrees.

When people use thought leadership to amplify their success in their day job, a 25% boost in yearly earnings can seem a great reward. However, others engage in thought leadership because they want to build a thought leadership business empire that will rival the accomplishments of Stephen Covey or Marshall Goldsmith.

Thought leadership is an entrepreneurial business. Great insights and hard work are essential—but they’re merely table stakes. So, before you start choosing the artwork for your world headquarters, ask two important questions.

 How many people will be interested in this content?

What are the insights worth to them?

The answers to these questions, while difficult to quantify, will help align your financial expectations with reality.


Evangelism-childEvangelism appears when someone has had significant success within their life. They’ve had an insight or breakthrough which defined their personal career. We’ve worked with senior executives who are tired of twice-a-month global travel, but they’re not ready to ride a golf cart off into the sunset. Their work isn’t quite yet done.

Evangelism sometimes appears earlier in a person’s career, after they reach an inflection point. Something changes, and they decide it’s not just about hitting their numbers, selling widgets, or even leading a team.

Thought leaders driven by evangelism often invoke concepts such as legacy. They feel a profound desire to share their insights with others. They describe themselves as messengers conveying something “larger than themselves” and they want to make sure the message gets heard and makes an impact. Thought leadership allows them to reach more people than they could have through individual mentorship.

When we talk to thought leaders, most identify with at least two of the three motivators—ego, money, and evangelism; some identify with aspects of all three.

Like those small children, there’s no right answer to the question. If little Kyra wants to grow up to be a crime-fighting, space doctor—then who’s to stop her? And likewise, whatever drives your thought leadership is completely unique to you. There’s no shame in striving for the center stage, growing your retirement account, or building for a better tomorrow.

The key difference between you and little Kyra–your motivation probably won’t likely change in fifteen minutes.

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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