The Thought Leadership Environment

From the Change Thinking Blog
Despite all the business change knowledge uncovered during the last 50 years, many seasoned change management professionals still aren’t adequately prepared to serve those trying to navigate their way through today’s turbulence. Change Thinking is an effort to have an exchange with, and be part of, a community of practitioners committed to raising the level of their game and that of the field of change execution.

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The Thought Leadership Environment

The first post of this series issued a call for an increased focus on thought leadership regarding character and presence. In the second post, I discussed the archetypes Eager Apprentices, Solid Performers, Adept Adventurers, Periodic Contributors, and Thought Leaders. In the third, I explained how each archetype exemplifies a different way in which character and presence play a role in the practice of our craft. The fourth post elaborated on the characteristics of a Thought Leader. Below, I offer some key points on the environment necessary to foster the growth of more Thought Leaders who can advocate that who we are should take a more prominent place in our professional development.

  • In our profession, thought leadership of any nature is cultivated best in actively changing environments where actual sponsors, agents, and targets are transitioning in real time. Although some useful insights can and have surfaced in think tanks and academic settings, generally speaking, the most impactful thought leadership comes from real work experience—practitioners who spend a substantial portion of their time in the field with clients.
  • Who we are Thought Leaders tend to flourish in environments where there is an awareness of and commitment to the role character and presence plays in our work. They seem to have the greatest impact when in situations where there is an intellectual and emotional—sometimes even cathartic—devotion to discovering more about “how we show up” makes a difference in our client work and the advancement of our entire professional community.
  • Thought Leaders who have the most impact on advocating who we are, usually come from, or operate in, working environments that display patience. Insights do not occur on schedule, nor are they often “born whole.” It takes time to nurture and grow them, to grasp their full essence, and to find the best way to share that with others. 
  • Thought Leaders seem to be most productive when functioning in environments occupied not only by other Thought Leaders but also by Eager Apprentices, Solid Performers, Adept Adventurers, and Periodic Contributors. Each archetype brings its own gifts and limitations. In combination, the diversity of maturity levels surfaces issues and questions that serve as input to stoke the creative juices in the Thought Leader. It is when the Thought Leader is most stirred and challenged that his or her best work emerges.
  • Thought Leaders who contribute the most to the progress of who we are seem to thrive in environments that encourage both/and, not either/or mindsets. For example:
    • There is both a commitment to maintaining alignment between character and presence, and to being open to new ways of showing up when facing the unknown.
    • There is a broad-based commitment to both succeeding at the current initiative and advancing the state of the profession.
    • There is both a strong respect for the lessons of the past and a determination to understand beyond what those lessons provide.
    • There is both great value placed on generating new ideas and a high degree of rigor imposed on their development and dissemination of the information shared.
  • Thought leadership does not occur in a vacuum. Those who are most effective at applying this archetype to who we are establish synergistic relationships with others, often serving the role of the catalyst for generating new ways of showing up in our work. There is little investment in the ownership of ideas, nor is there ego attached to the ideas themselves. While there is pride in what has been developed and put forward, there is also a detachment that allows it to be easily released when deeper understanding leads to new insights or new directions.
  • Many Thought Leaders maintain a developmental relationship with one or more mentors to whom they look for wisdom and guidance as they continue on their own learning journey. A reliable axiom to follow is “don’t trust any teacher who doesn’t have a teacher from whom he or she is still learning.”

Closing Thoughts

The two primary facets to being a change agent are represented by what you do and who you are. Both aspects are reflected in the work performed by five archetypical practitioners: Eager Apprentices, Solid Performers, Adept Adventurers, Periodic Contributors, and Thought Leaders. Each adds in its own way to the successes clients are able to achieve today, and to the development of our profession to meet the challenges of the future. Which of the archetypes you play is a function of your character, the presence you convey, and where you are in your maturation as a practitioner.

Regardless of which archetype you feel best describes you or to which you aspire, as a professional community, we are woefully under-represented by Thought Leaders who are dedicated to offering perspective and guidance toward the who we are side of our work. The lack of awareness and skill associated with how we show up is compounded further by so little Thought Leadership being provided in this area. I do not believe that as a profession we will ever approach our potential without considerable influence from more who we are Thought Leaders than we have today.

This series is directed to those practitioners who feel they meet or could meet the criteria for being Thought Leaders in our profession (being designated as such by others, not themselves). If you fall into this category and haven’t already done so, I encourage you to come forward when writing books, articles, or blogs, giving speeches, coaching/mentoring or any other means you use to convey your views, and express how you relate to who we are when practicing our craft.

Whether you use character and presence as reference points or other topics to explore your lessons learned, as a profession, we need to share our wisdom with other practitioners so they can benefit from your experience as they pursue their own path. Your peers (both those leading change and those affected by it), as well as the future of our profession, need what you have to offer. If you are considered a Thought Leader now or believe this designation will come your way in the future, please consider using that platform as a means for helping our profession lift its game to a higher level.

Go to the beginning of this series.

Posted on: September 10, 2013 03:55 PM | Permalink

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"It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much -- the wheel, New York, wars and so on -- whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man -- for precisely the same reasons."

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