Do Leadership is the new Thought Leadership
It’s time to focus less on being seen as successful, and focus more on being known for being invaluable.
There is no shortage of articles spelling out how to package and promote your “personal brand.” According to this amalgamated, emergent playbook all you have to do is… blog! panel! network! leverage social media! pitch yourself to the media!
But what about the substance of your personal brand’s “package”? You know, things like your work ethic, your collaborative abilities, your tenacity, and your ability to deliver? To borrow a metaphor from Einstein, with the emphasis on the personal brand I’m concerned we’ve gotten away from the meat and have become obsessed with the wrapper.
“If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies…. It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.”
— Albert Einstein
What’s more, when we deify the personal brand, we are not just “getting ourselves out there!” I would argue we are in fact eroding the efficacy of the workplace. Having served as a GM / COO at two agencies and one startup over the past decade, here are some of the negative manifestations of this phenomenon that I’ve observed internally and in the industry at large:
- The desire to contribute to a team known for excellence has been replaced with the desire to be publicly hailed individually as a “thought leader” (and even take individual credit for what was a team effort)
- The emphasis on how to talk about one’s accomplishments is being privileged above bringing value
- The “thought leaders” who are on the speaker circuit, writing / promoting their next book, and cranking on blog posts can’t simultaneously be deep in the trenches doing the doing; at best they can throttle between the two worlds and, at worst, one is sacrificed altogether—usually the doing of the doing, which falls on the shoulders of the under-known doers
- Speaking of the under-known doers… those bringing value are rarely interviewed, known, or talked about because they are behind the scenes doing all the doing—it’s a self-perpetuating problem
Admittedly, I’ve struggled to keep some semblance of balance between telling my story and sharing my thoughts, with keeping my head down and doing good work. In fact, that’s why I’ve taken a year off of blogging at Forbes, six months off from writing my newsletter Professional Excellence, and why I’ve turned down most speaking engagements in the past two years (the exceptions being  if I could moderate / facilitate a great conversation amongst people I admire and  if I could talk about this very topic—see: “Reputation Over Resume” at INBOUND15). I even pumped the breaks on a book deal.
With all the extra time I’ve saved (reduced travel, reduced writing, reduced externalization of thought), I’ve been helping seriously grow Made by Many’s New York office. And it shows. I’ve closed deals with clients from my personal network in topical areas that excite my team (connected devices! retail! organizational change! food!). We’ve hired five team members since September to support this new work, which has meant I get to exercise my talent / HR / back office muscles.
I will forever be grateful for the accolades I’ve received, but what makes me truly proud is to build teams, help teams, and win as a team. And the only thanks I need is seeing them growing, happy, and professionally fulfilled.
So what brings you professional joy and fulfillment? I would wager it’s not about getting quoted or about being on stage—and if it is, my hope would be that you’re proud of the substance of your message and the hard work it stands on—and not the limelight in and of itself. What’s more, I bet what brings you professional joy has something to do with the feeling you have after a day spent with a great group of people, working towards a common goal, and eventually clocking the win because you all showed up and gave it your all.
I want to leave with a challenge. What is your professional north star? How well are you aligned? Four simple concepts that I return to anytime I lose my way are these:
- Skills over talk. (h/t Steve Gordon)
- Reputation over resume.
- Do leadership over thought leadership.
- Focus on being invaluable, not on being successful.
Success will come, I promise—but it’s not the vehicle. It’s the outcome. And if I’m honest, it’s not nearly as awesome as you think it is. The most fun I’ve ever had is when I am materially and positively impacting people and the world.
Leslie Bradshaw is the do-leading managing partner of Made by Many’s New York office. Prior to joining forces two years ago with her favorite innovation makers from London, she spent six years building her own company with blood, sweat, tears, amazing team members, trusting clients, and a savant partner. She’s won some awards and recognition, but would rather get to blazing new trails than dote on what’s already been traversed.