It's safe to say that today's "rock star" is the entrepreneur, speaker, motivator, thought leader. Never before have there been so many ways for people to share their message with the world, build an audience, and ultimately turn themselves into a new version of the very leaders that have paved the way--like Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss, Gary Vaynerchuk, etc., to name a few.
I'll be the first to admit that I fall into that category of "those aspiring." I fall into the category of rising thought leaders: we are speaking publicly, we are writing books, we are publishing our thoughts and values online, building an audience, going viral, and beginning to make a name for ourselves.
Being inside this "up-and-coming" tier, however, has given me (and a few select others) a unique perspective on what this journey of becoming a true thought leader actually looks like--and that's precisely what so many people are missing about the path: it actually requires you to have a unique perspective, not regurgitate what everyone else is saying.
Just last week, I was talking to fellow up-and-coming Millennial speaker, author, and thought leader, Eric Termuende. And to be honest, he summarized what I have been feeling for a long time, perfectly:
"What people are missing about the Tony Robbins' and Tim Ferriss' of the world is that they came up by sharing their own unique experiences. They didn't take what everyone else was saying and put their own spin on it. That's not thought leadership. Being a leader has to come from our own experience, our own lessons. Our originality is our angle, our perspective," said Termuende.
These are wise words from a 24 year old rising star on the international speaking circuit, specializing in Millennials and the next generation of the workforce. Eric was also named one of the American Express' Top 100 Emerging Innovators Under 35, and he has a new book coming out February 20th, 2017, Rethink Work: Finding & Keeping the Right Talent.
This is something that resonates tremendously with me, since everything I have built in the past few years for myself in terms of "thought leadership" has been the result of my sharing lessons learned from my own individual experiences. The majority of it occurred on Quora, where I would share stories from my years as a nationally ranked World of Warcraft player, or my years as a bodybuilder and fitness model, or my experiences in the advertising agency world. It wasn't about saying the same old clichés. It was about painting a story and then extracting the lessons that I learned, the hard way. That's what truly resonated with readers and listeners.
To Termuende's point however, this is not always the case for many young and hungry aspiring "thought leaders." What happens is they binge on business podcasts and audio books by the leaders at the top of the food chain, internalize their lessons, and then regurgitate them with a slightly different spin. Does it work? Sure. It can get you to a certain point. But that isn't the path to becoming a Tony Robbins, a Tim Ferriss, or a Gary Vaynerchuk. That's the path to becoming a replica, not an original.
If you truly want to become a thought leader, in any market, niche, or industry, you need to remember what got those power-players to where they are today: their own vulnerable experiences. You watch Gary Vaynerchuk because he's unapologetically open and honest about his life, his path, and his lessons learned. You listen to Tim Ferriss not because he interviews or sources knowledge from some of the world's best and brightest. You listen to him because he applies that knowledge to his own life, tests it out, and then gives you his raw and unfiltered analysis. And you listen to Tony Robbins not because he is saying the same things as the thought leaders that came before him, but because he gets in the trenches with you. He takes you to a different level, emotionally. That's his own unique value.