Why Your Thought Leadership = Career Independence

Image Source: Visionary Art of Luke Brown

Many of you hope to become a recognized thought-leader in your industry, field, or niche.

With good reason. If you’re a consultant, coach, author, speaker, or blogger – becoming a thought leader is the ticket to freedom. Thought-leaders are paid higher, get better gigs, and have more opportunities to choose from. That’s a fact.

If you’re wondering what thought leadership can do for your business, here’s the difference:

  • Ability to attract the best clients effortlessly.
  • Invitations to speak at high-powered and prestigious events.
  • Credibility to work with ANY organization in the world.
  • Strategic partners clamoring to collaborate with you.
  • Enough mojo to sit with confidence at any table you desire.
  • Real leverage to make a global impact with your work.

Building A Thought-Leadership Platform = Career Independence.

You might be sitting at home, just waiting for the day – when you finally have the exit velocity that comes with being a big name in your industry. Imagine: You’ll finally be able to raise your rates, say no to crappy gigs, and command serious respect.

Reality check: becoming a recognized thought-leader is not a magical act of creation. It takes conscious intention and dedication. You think Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, or Nancy Duarte became household names by just clicking their ruby slippers three times? That’s just wishful thinking.

In my humble opinion, leveling-up is an internal process. There’s plenty of get rich quick programs promising instant celebrity and recognition. Lots of bloggers with great ideas, but little business. And plenty of people with a consulting/coaching business but little mojo to cut through the noise. Sadly, most consultants I know are often in business for themselves. Certainly, they’ll they work in service to their clients. But there’s no bigger story that shows they really care, even though they obviously do.

Don’t fall down that trap. I certainly did when I started as a storytelling consultant from 2002-2009. Sure, I got to work with big-time clients like AARP, Ernst & Young, Marriott, NASA, and The Nature Conservancy. But the impact of my work didn’t live far beyond the walls of these clients. I didn’t have the gravitational force to inspire others or change the world. It all changed in 2009 when my consulting business fell apart amidst divorce.

Faced with the need to reinvent, I decided to build a thought-leadership platform in service to my decade-long obsession: storytelling.

The internet is changing how we communicate, how we connect, and how we define ourselves. Yet I didn’t feel storytelling was getting the proper attention it deserves in this conversation. So I started to share more openly on this topic. I was witnessing countless friends and colleagues struggling through the process of reinvention.

None of us were taught how to redefine ourselves, much less do it again and again in our careers. Yet those are the demands of these times. Not just for individuals, but equally how we lead our organizations through reinvention and transformation. Armed with this seed of awareness, I began to evangelize a bigger notion of storytelling far and wide.

To start, I wrote Believe Me: A Storytelling Manifesto for Change-Makers and Innovators (since downloaded over 10,000 times). Honestly, I locked myself up in my apartment over the summer of 2009, and 90 days later emerged: 15 pounds heavier and with the book available on Amazon. In this manifesto, I gave myself permission to speak truth and reveal myself. I began to challenge the conventional thinking on storytelling yet approached it from a place of love and empathy. I called on a bigger game for us all to play.

What followed is chronicled here throughout GetStoried.com. From the get-go, the mission was to teach the world how to think in narrative.

Along the way, the following was built:

All of the above was achieved for pennies on the dollar. When you’re broke, necessity is the mother of invention. Don’t doubt your own ability to execute. We MacGyver-ed all this with rubber-bands and a toothpick. Our site remains unabashedly DIY and in perpetual beta. This doesn’t stop people like you from sensing there’s something here, and joining our tribe.

We’re now rapidly expanding our vision with a wider circle of collaborators, strategic partners, and game-changing projects. We have another Reinvention Summit forthcoming in the fall. A research study on “About” pages rolling out later this week. We’re also evolving the editorial voice and vision of Get Storied into the areas of human development, entrepreneurship, and social media. There’s a new genre of naked blogging that we’re inspired to emulate. You’ll be seeing more of this open-kimono style in the coming weeks. Hope you appreciate our expanding directions.

It’s never been easier for YOU to build a thought-leadership platform:

  • You don’t need permission from anyone (the gatekeepers are disappearing).
  • You just need to tell the bigger story of what really matters.
  • You have to frame it as a cause so others can identify with.
  • You need to package your ideas in a way that can travel.
  • You can do it DIY-style for pennies on the dollar.

I was recently talking to my good friend and colleague George Huang on this process. The light bulb went off when I explained: “learn to extrovert your thinking and sense-making process.” In other words, invite people into relationship with who you are and how you look at things. If what you say has a shred of truth, empathy, and vulnerability – people will pay attention. (I’ll explain those three concepts in a forthcoming blog post).

Now, do you see the secret to building a thought-leadership platform? Here’s 9 tips to inspire your process:

  1. Help people understand how you see the world.
  2. Let them know what you’re paying attention to.
  3. Give shout outs to people who inspire and inform your thinking.
  4. Try to frame the bigger conversation for your field or industry.
  5. Listen to what’s being said. Avoid debate over trivial stuff.
  6. Focus on what’s being overlooked but truly matters.
  7. Start with Facebook and Twitter as your streams for sharing and aggregation.
  8. Graduate to your own containers/platforms (blog, e-book, podcast, radio show, etc…)
  9. Package your ideas for easy dissemination and sharing.


Don’t worry, I’ll be expanding on all these tips in future posts as well.


The most important element is to work in service to something larger than yourself. When you have a bigger story to tell, people pay attention. They feel you’re in it for more than just your own personal advancement. That’s the mistake that most consultants or coaches fall into. Same with some business gurus. Are you trying to just sell more shit, or do you really give a shit? That’s the ultimate question.

When it comes to your community or tribe, you become a leader when you take care of those around you. Demonstrate your commitment to collective well-being, and people will naturally turn to you for guidance. Be earnest in your approach and you’ll naturally become a leader in your field. Being recognized and appreciated for your efforts is an obvious by-product. People like to spread and share great things. So take care of your tribe, and you’ll become one of their leaders.

What’s your favorite insight from this blog post?

Share your comment or question below, and I promise to respond. If you like this post, there’s no greater love than to share it with your friends.

If you’re looking for advanced help on the issues described in this blog post, I still have a few spots left for private 1-on-1 coaching. If you’re on a budget and want to jump into this process, check out The New About Me.

24 thoughts on “Why Your Thought Leadership = Career Independence”

  1. I started to write a comment but then decided I had so much to say about the subject that I’d have to write a blog post in response. Stay tuned. Thanks for a through-provoking post, Michael.

      1. Do you think it’s harder for women to be thought leaders than it is for men? That’s one of the questions your post evoked for me. Here’s my post: http://astoriedcareer.com/2011/07/one-obstacle-to-thought-leader.html

  2. Kahlil Ashanti

    My favorite insight was how in losing your marriage you gained a renewed perspective on how to make every day count. I have a similar flight path, and the crash and burn seemed to inspire new growth. Great post!

    1. Thanks Kahlil! It’s remarkable how the biggest hardships we face (illness, loss, abuse) are often incubators for our soul’s emergence. I wouldn’t wish divorce or life-threatening illness on anyone, yet I know in both instances those have been the biggest catalysts in my own growth and learning.

  3. My biggest takeaway is point 1 – “Help people understand how you see the world” because this involves that element of show, don’t tell. 

    So many people just want to blog, tweet and jam down our throats what they know – and never why they do it, or where the passion for that belieft comes from.

    For example my passion for teaching – and helping people teach online starts right back in Grade one when I met a friend with a disability.  That moment has shaped my perception of the world, my teaching career and my passion for what matters onilne.

    Cheers Michael, can’t wait to see what else you have for us


    1. That is so awesome Ainslie. I appreciate knowing what motivates you in your work. How you see the world is exactly why I hired you and want to work with you. And the more people understand how you see the world, the easier it becomes to find the invisible lines of connection.

  4. Your “ultimate question” does it for me!

    Bob Dylan said ” You gotta serve someone” – so you’re endorsed!

    This is a Blog for Our Time; we have never needed new Leadership like right now in our world. And it begins in any chair, in any home, in any human heart.

    We need a lot of the courage to tell our own inique story, not just in words, but in our hearts, thoughts & deeds. We ARE unique! When our career (aka our work in and for this world) reflects all that, then we’ll be rocking.

  5. I’m really interested in developing my social enterprise, BALANCE Edutainment, into a thought leadership platform.  It seems natural that we would be a thought leader for using edutainment to raise awareness of the need to repair our relations with each other, ourselves, and the Earth, and connecting people who want to work for positive change. I like you bullets; thought-provoking. Thanks bruh!

    All: Check out our global awakening story at http://pachaspajamas.com.   

  6. Your 9 points to building a thought-leadership platform are especially helpful to me. They each build beautifully upon the previous one. I’m eager to see what they inspire me to write/create/envision to take my passion on the virtual road!  

  7. Hi Michael, This is fantastic! I really needed to hear # 5- I often get impassioned and sweat the small stuff. As well, sometimes I wonder about being too open- it is quite easy for me but my experience is that it intimidates people. Thanks again.

    1. Letting go is always a challenge, for me too. The sharing bit/being too open…examine the way in which you share. Can you root it from a place of LOVE amongst the provocation?

      1. Actually, from love is where I begin for the most part. In my experience, many ppl say that they want honesty but they are lying to themselves bc often it sends them running for the hills- whether I am sharing stories or giving feedback.

  8. Loved this article. It really resonates. My favorite parts (of a great ensemble piece)? The story of your reinvention to storyteller thought-leader and the 9 tips to inspire your process. Psyched that I am doing/working on 8 of 9. Yay, someone gets me!

  9. Great post!  people do see the world differently and in order to connect, an understand of how we each see it is the beginning of a relationship.  How we’d like the world to be is the next step.

  10. Man, you’re spot on…

    As a side note: I saw the interview you did recently with Mike Koenigs.  I noticed you mentioned that you initially met him at a Brendon Burchard Millionaire Messenger Seminar (I think), and there’s a lot of excellent overlap in what you and Brendon have to say.

    Great post, Michael.

    1. Yeah, Mike Koenigs and I met through a mutual friend Robert Richman from Zappos, while at a Brendon Burchard’s Experts Academy. Small interconnected world it is…I’m a big fan of Brendon’s work, especially his stuff around expert story positioning.

  11. GREAT story, great lessons. While you may have had to ‘MacGyver’ your way up, you chose new, trending, smart vehicles with which to do it in your own way. A fantastic blend of classic business savvy married with a fine-tuned understanding of human nature and the technological and social media developments available. And at the heart? Good story-telling. Love.It.

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