Are You A Thought Leader Or An Expert?

Experts should give us their most accurate assessment of the specific issue. Leaders have a broader … [+]

From a business development standpoint, have you earned the right to be called a leader or an expert?

“A key lesson from Covid-19 is that leaders and experts are not the same,” says leadership author Tim Lupfer.

This is from a leader who has seen a great deal: Desert Storm combat veteran, West Point professor, business executive, high-end consultant and even Rhodes Scholar.

Lupfer contends that one of the greatest mistakes people make about leadership is to think that leadership ability is universal. He believes leaders affect other human beings in order to achieve organizational goals. Not everyone possesses the skill or will to take this on.

“Most of the work most of us perform today is as a specialist: focusing on a task or body of knowledge,” says Lupfer. “When we master our given area, we become an expert. Yes, we can become a leader in our field, but that is indirect influence on others; it is not having the responsibility to get other people to perform to standard. That role of direct leadership is assigned by the organization, or in politics, by the vote.”

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Lupfer contends the pandemic has illustrated the distinction between leaders and experts quite dramatically. Experts should give us their most accurate assessment of the specific issue (their area of expertise). The leader has a broader role: he or she must apply that information to the complex conditions in which we live.

“The expert is a specialist (‘this is how the virus spreads’), but the leader must be a generalist (‘this is what we have to restrict, and this is what we must keep running’),” says Lupfer.

Lupfer says while the roles of leaders and experts are not necessarily mutually exclusive, the roles call for differences in skills and temperament. The expert concentrates his or her efforts, while the leader is constantly balancing different demands. During the pandemic, we asked our experts, “What does the latest evidence tell us?” But the issue that our leaders at all levels faced was, “How do we balance the need for health with economic and social demands?”

But what about thought leader versus expert? To attract high-paying clients it pays to be thought of as an expert, and the real prize is to become a thought leader.

You cannot declare yourself a thought leader. That is a title that must be bestowed upon you from others.

Thought leaders are known for their talking and their typing. In other words, public speaking and writing. Lupfer is clearly a thought leader when it comes to leadership.

One aspect of being a thought leader is that you are quotable; others quote you on what you say. These people say important ideas and they say them in witty ways.

The secret of being a wit is preparation. Thought leaders have catch phrases in their talks and their writing. Think of people like Simon Sinek (“start with why”) and Suze Orman (“people first, then money, then things”).

Create a list of sound bites about your work. You need more than three to six catch phrases; you need a list of dozens of sound bites.

A list of sound bites is a cheat sheet of pithy sayings for your speeches, workshops, podcasts, media interviews, social media posts, and other times you are talking about your book and your work. A best practice is to also bake these into your writing, like your LinkedIn articles and your book.

Lupfer retired as a managing director in Deloitte Consulting in 2011, and then continued doing individual consulting for the next seven years. He now spends his time writing and speaking. We met when I helped him edit a book on leadership entitled Leadership Tough Love. He enjoys traveling with his wife (and high school sweetheart) of over 46 years and trying to keep up with their seven grandchildren.

Henry DeVries, M.B.A., cofounder and CEO of Indie Books International, speaks to thousands of business people each year on how to persuade with a story. In his writing

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