The Professional Consultant’s Association meeting on Friday, January 9th was on the topic of “Being a Thought Leader). The meeting was a roundtable discussion of the membership, which happens from time to time, and was led by one of our members, Ken Samuelson, based on a webinar he participated with some time earlier.

Tom Coates! Unicorns! #AEA Seattle 2011 Day  2
Jeffrey Zeldman via Compfight

One of the best things about having roundtable discussions is realizing just how smart everyone in the room is and how well everyone can articulate their beliefs on a topic, and this one didn’t come close to disappointing. We initially started out by evaluating where we thought we stood as far as whether we were thought leaders, getting there, or if the thought was in our consciousness or not. In a group where everyone is involved in giving others their opinions on how to solve their issues, I’ll admit surprise that not everyone considered themselves a thought leader. Many people believed they were only working their way there.

Of course I (Mitch Mitchell, the usual writer for this blog) felt differently. Not only did I believe that all of us had to be thought leaders by the very nature of what we did, but I also offered in a later discussion that I didn’t think any of us had to be great, although we all work on being the best we can be, because greatness isn’t something that any of us can ever claim for ourselves (except Muhammad Ali). Instead, if we’re lucky, we get the opportunity to work with someone, whether one or one or with a company, do the best we can to help them with their difficulties, and if we perform well enough maybe someone else will proclaim us as great. As long as we don’t run away from the appellation life is good.

One thing we didn’t spend much time on was defining what a thought leader was. We didn’t have to because based on what most people were saying it was defined for us, although in two ways. Some, like myself, believed that we were the thought leaders because even if our clients have an idea of what should be done, it’s often left to us to get it done, our way, with their help. Others believed that if the client came up with the idea that even if they were the ones who pushed it through the client was more the thought leader and the consultant was just the tool that got it accomplished.

What’s important about this type of discourse is that it shows all consultants aren’t mirror images of each other, even if they’re in the same field. Whereas myself and another consultant are pretty much in the same field, there were 4 people in the room who do a lot of the same thing, yet each of them came at the concept of thought leadership from a different angle. All four of them were intelligent, well spoken and thoughtful people, and proof that there’s enough potential clients out there for all of us to find without having to consider ourselves as competitors.

If you’re a consultant, or even a manager or leader of some sort, do you consider yourself a thought leader? If so, how; if not, why not?

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