Thought Leadership And Egos: The Trouble With Luminaries

04/15/16 -- Visitor

Reading a press release about a conference I was considering attending, I groaned. One of the speakers described himself as an "industry luminary."

What is a luminary, anyway? No industry association designates you an official luminary, the way you are dubbed a doctor, lawyer, or Ph.D. It's one of those self-appointed honorifics, like "visionary," "ninja," or "rock star."  

This particular luminary might have been an expert I wanted to hear, but describing himself as a luminary didn't help me decide. In fact, it made me suspicious. In other words, if "luminary" was intended to burnish his reputation, it backfired. 

This is just one example of how ego can get in the way of personal branding and thought leadership. 

Ego is a tricky subject, and one worth your spending some time thinking about if you are trying to establish yourself as a thought leader. You want to display expertise, not arrogance. Over the last year, I have seen ego weaken thought leadership content; I've even seen ego kill it.  

For example, think about that brief professional bio you attach to articles, and use to gain speaking engagements. It helps establish your credibility. If your bio describes your accomplishments, rather than proclaiming you a "luminary," your audience will respond more positively. You founded a successful company. You teach at a prestigious university. You manage cybersecurity for one of the largest banks in the U.S. Communicate accomplishments through actions and results, not adjectives. "Luminary" is superfluous for people who have achieved such milestones.

How can ego get in the way of thought leadership content and thought leadership marketing? Here are five ways to know if you have a grip on your ego:

1.    You mind your own projects, not your peers'. 

Let's say you're one of eight experts on a niche topic at your firm. You're all writing about it, both individually and in small groups. In my experience, one of those experts sometimes pops into the article editing process at the last minute -- after a small group has put in weeks of hard work -- and declares an article's argument is off, or the format is wrong, and demands a major change in course. If your ego is in check, you're not that person. You offer help if asked, but you trust your teammates. Also, you know there is often more than one way to cook a great dish. 

2.    You don't over extend yourself.

Smart leaders know how to coach and how to delegate. If too many details of too many projects must go through one person, that person may not be delegating well. Thought leadership content can't get produced in a timely way when people are over-extended. It's not easy to make time to review article edits, for example, on top of everyday work and business travel. People and companies that produce high-quality content in a timely manner know how to divide up labor and delegate. 

3.    You take criticism well.

Whether you are working with an editor inside your company, an editor at a third-party publication, or an outside company that's helping you develop content (as the Bloom Group does), you're going to hear some candid assessments of your arguments and your writing. You're going to need to listen to constructive criticism without getting defensive. Assuming you're working with people you trust, you will learn from them. People with egos in check are open to learning. In fact, they thrive on it. 

4.    You explore data and research with an open mind

If you are writing thought leadership content at a large firm, chances are very high that you will work with research reports and surveys commissioned by your company on various topics. This data often surprises: Perhaps your customers are adopting a certain type of technology faster than you'd expected, or not spending money as you'd predicted. People driven by ego may fall back on "gut instinct" at times like this, and argue with the data; people with their egos in check examine data critically, but keep their minds open to the results.

5.    You use your emotional IQ

Accomplished people know how to put other people at ease and harness their strengths to get team projects done. They use their emotional IQ to assess situations, read people, and work effectively in a group. In a meeting, they will typically listen as much as they speak. Creating good content is typically a group process; people who are sensitive to others will make that process more productive and pleasant. If your content creation process seems perennially mired in dispute or delay, ask yourself: Is a person on your team who has more ego than emotional IQ the culprit? Perhaps you can bring in another person with strong emotional IQ to counterbalance that. 

A team with healthy, but not oversized egos can challenge each other, teach each other, and ultimately, come up with better results -- whether we're talking about creating products and services, or creating content. So keep your ego in check and watch your reputation as an expert grow. Let your accomplishments do the talking. No one will need to call you a luminary.



Submitted by Tim Parker on

All true. In my experience, #1 occasionally happens when a piece is nearly done, especially a large and influential report – people who contributed nothing to it can demonstrate some influence by interfering. The best subject matter experts we work with are generally good at #3. And they often work at organizations where #2 is deeply ingrained in the culture – they don’t have time to micro-manage the content-development or writing processes, so they take advice. #4 is usually a challenge at firms that like to broadcast consistent messages; their research is often designed to support the prevailing point of view, so there aren’t even insights to be found, let alone admitted to.  At other organizations that value “pushing the envelope” they seek revelations and embrace them when they find them. And #5 is a good guide for life in general, of course.