It may come as something of a surprise that people have a host of different reasons and motivations for wanting to be a thought leader.
Some simply want to establish themselves as the go-to in their industry or field, while others want to educate their communities, weigh in on key public debates, raise awareness on issues, put forward innovative ideas, challenge behaviours … even change the way we think about things at a fundamental level.
So where do you stand as a would-be or fully-fledged thought leader? What role do you want to fill or are you already filling?
To better explain the types of thought leadership out there, I thought I’d use some of our best known Aussie thought leaders to illustrate the differences.
The seven types of thought leadership
The Issue or Subject Expert
These are the expert’s experts. They have done or are doing original research on their subject; they have read everything written on the issue; have worked in a specific area for a long period of time and understand everything or almost everything there is to know about their area of expertise. World-leading quantum physicist, Prof Michelle Simmons, AO, Scientia Professor of Quantum Physics in the Faculty of Science at the University of New South Wales is a great example of this type of expert. Not only is she leading the race to build the world’s fastest quantum computer but she is the acknowledged go-to expert in the area of quantum physics.
These are people who are using their considerable knowledge, experience and know-how to educate and inform others. Australian businessman, best known as the founder and chairman of ‘Wizard Home Loans’ – Australia’s second largest non-bank mortgage lender behind Aussie Home Loans – Mark Bouris, AM, is a wonderful example of this type of thought leader. After a successful career building disruptive businesses to challenge the market and provide smarter solutions for consumers, he is now using his years of accumulated knowledge and experience to identify and nurture innovative thinking and share his boardroom knowledge with everyday Australians.
These are individuals who those using their status to raise awareness on issues, encourage behaviour change and advocate on behalf of their industries and communities. Australian wheelchair basketballer, wheelchair tennis player, radio host and motivational speaker, Dylan Martin Alcott, OAM, typifies this type of thought leader. He is using his status to not only encourage people with a disability to reach for the stars but to change the way people with disabilities are perceived in the wider community. He has started the charitable organisation, the Dylan Alcott Foundation, which is focussed on enriching the lives of young people with disabilities by eliminating the barriers to getting involved in sport and study.
These are individuals who are using their status as business or community leaders to weigh in on and influence key political and social debates. Software billionaire and co-founder of US listed tech-giant, Atlassian, Mike Cannon-Brookes, Qantas CEO Allan Joyce, and BHP Billiton CEO, Andrew McKenzie are great examples is this style of thought leadership. In addition to being a powerful voice for issues such as technology, policy, skills, corporate governance, Mike has become an advocate for action on climate change while Dublin-born Alan Joyce will be best remembered for leading the business community’s support for same sex marriage. Similarly Andrew McKenzie is using his status to take a stand on climate change, trade policy, gender diversity and indigenous rights.
These are people working at the cutting edge of their industries, in many instances to develop practical applications and create real benefit for businesses or their communities. Dr Catriona Wallace, founder and Executive Director of ASX listed AI company, Flamingo Ai is one such example. Based in NYC and Sydney, her business provides a Cognitive Virtual Assistant (Artificial Intelligence) called ‘ROSIE’ that helps financial services companies across the world improve online sales conversion rates and the better service their customers. Catriona is one of the world’s most cited experts on the future of work – human+machine, the future of customer experience, AI and bot strategy and has established herself as the go-to expert on AI, ethics and human rights.
The Problem Solver
Problem solvers are those who by virtue of their experience and longevity in their industry and field, understand the key the problems facing their communities or sector and often have the solution to these problems. One such person is leading intensive care specialist, Professor Charlie Corke. With changes to life-saving technology, sick and unconscious patients are often being kept alive because families are unaware of their end-of-life wishes, or unable to follow through with these wishes. Observing this unnecessary suffering and determined to put an end to it, he has spearheaded the development of the MyValues platform which enables people to clarify and document how far they would like end-of-life treatment to be taken.
Explainers are those who provide clarity to a wider audience on what is happening or being debated on in the external environment. They have the ability to clarify and simplify complicated issues, even serve as a conduit for other thought leaders to broader groups of people. Michael Lewis, author of the The Big Short, became a thought leader on the financial crisis by virtue of explaining to people much of what precipitated the crisis. On the Aussie front, the person who best fits this category is Peter Varghese, AO and chancellor of the University of Queensland and former diplomat and public servant. Given his considerable experience in foreign policy and international security, he is able to effectively and simply explain how international forces impact our tertiary sector and Australia more broadly … and more importantly, what we need to do about this.
So having heard about the various types of thought leaders out there, what category do you believe you fill or would like to fill?
If you would like to learn more, do join us for The 101 of Thought Leadership Workshop which takes place at Altitude Co-Working, Level 1/575 Bourke St, Melbourne on Thu, November 21, 2019, 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM