Finding the Middle Ground of Thought Leadership

By Brett Jarman | Help Me Leverage Podcast

Finding the Middle Ground of Thought Leadership

Thought leadership can be a scary prospect.

It’s one thing to know your subject matter well, but to call yourself a thought leader? That can seem like a stretch for most. After all, that spot’s already been taken hasn’t it?

This is why you might struggle to maintain momentum with your authority and content marketing efforts. There may be a handful of industry leaders who get all the attention so it seems like your efforts fall on deaf ears. It’s not an all or nothing game though.

On the podcast this week I explore the idea of finding the ‘middle ground of thought leadership.’ It’s a position where you still stand out from the crowd but might be a step or two away from ‘A-list’ status. It’s a good spot to be if you want to grow your consulting business and enhance your reputation.

And if the ultimate goal is to get A-list status, you’re going to have to pass through the middle ground anyway.

Have a listen or read the transcript below and you’ll hear/see why it can take an enormous amount of pressure off your authority marketing expectations and set you up for success.

There may or may not be room at the top but a lot of the measures of success can be found in the middle ground. #thoughtLeadership

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Brett Jarman: Welcome back. I'm going to break from the format I've been using in the previous episodes where I've been getting into the how to do authority marketing. I just had some thoughts occur to me this week I thought would be worth sharing. In particular, I want to move on to a subject along the lines of how to find the middle ground of thought leadership.

I guess the first question you'll want to ask is what exactly is a thought leader anyway? Authority marketing is all about establishing yourself as a thought leader. It's basically about positioning yourself in the market so that people recognise you as an expert and ultimately they want to do business with you in whatever way, shape or form that may be. But to do that ... Yeah, I thought it'd be useful just to jump around some definitions of what a thought leader is, and I've got a few, as you'd suspect. I jumped across to our good friends at Google and some good definitions have come up. I haven't used any dictionary definitions, given that it's a term rather than a specific word.

You've got Thought Leadership Lab - their website is The way they describe it, they say:

“Thought leaders are the informed opinion leaders and the go to people in their field of expertise. They are trusted sources who move and inspire people with innovative ideas: turn ideas into reality, and know and show how to replicate their success.”

That seems like a pretty good definition to me. Nothing in there that I would argue with.

The next one I find compelling as well. This from a blog item on They say:

“By definition thought leadership is any sort of marketing which solidifies you as an expert and authority within your industry. The goal of thought leadership marketing is not to create sales heavy content, but to provide an entry point to your business by branding yourself as an expert.“

There they just describe thought leadership as a style of marketing. What they're calling thought leadership marketing is what we would call authority marketing.

I tend to think of thought leadership as being independent of marketing, so you can be a thought leader and not necessarily be using it as a marketing tool as such. But in our case I think it's fine to mix the two, because we're talking about authority marketing in general.

The next definition here, this is on Wikipedia:

“A thought leader is an individual or firm that is recognised as an authority in a specialised field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.”

Based on those definitions, anyone who’s sort of putting themselves as an expert, whether they be a consultant, a speaker, an author or whatever, a subject matter expert, and especially if you're marketing yourself to business clients, which is ... That's what we specialise in, B2B providers. I think any of those definitions you would find perhaps not compelling, but certainly of interest to you. You would want to be recognised as a thought leader based on those definitions.

Then the question arises who actually decides if someone is a thought leader or not? I came across this article in Forbes by John Rampton. He says:

"A thought leader has to be declared a thought leader by someone else. A person can't just stand up and declare, 'Hey, look at me, I'm a thought leader.' A thought leader gains his reputation by first proving their worth to others. They know a lot about an industry. They obtain credentials for education and experience and use this knowledge to help others and they're generally considered experts in their field of industry. Thought leaders need to be able to provide new thought and insight into the differing aspects of their expertise."

I agree with that point to a degree. However, the thing about a thought leader having to be declared a thought leader by someone else, at the end of the day there's no authority out there who's going to come and knock on your door and say, "Oh, by the way, you're a thought leader. Here's your certificate that proves such and you can now add thought leader to your title."

You've been recognised as a thought leader in due course. You would already have thought leaders in your industry. They're the sort of people that turn up at conferences, have already written books, and so on and so forth. You may well be one yourself. Interestingly enough, in the Forbes article that I've just quoted from about two paragraphs down John actually declares himself to be a thought leader. He says, "I am a thought leader," blah, blah, blah.

Although yes, you've got to be declared a thought leader by someone else, but at some point you actually have to declare it yourself. That's what I'm inviting you to think of as you listen to the Authority Elevator and consider your own authority marketing needs, your own position in your industry.

When I invite people to think of themselves as a thought leader often what comes up is what's sometimes referred to as the imposter syndrome, where people think, “You know what? I can't really claim that space. There are other people who know more than me in the industry.” That's the thing. That's always going to be the case.

What I want to sort of put on the table here is the idea of A-List thought leaders, - List thought leaders, C-List, D-List, and that's probably where it would end. Then E-List is where everyone else is. What I find with most people, when they go down a content marketing route or authority marketing route, is they'll put out a few blog posts or a few podcast episodes or a few videos ... And I've done this myself. I won't say I'm guilty of this, because when you say you're guilty of something it implies that you've done something wrong, but I have certainly done this myself, so I totally understand that point of view and why this happens.

They put out a few blog posts, they find it doesn't really get traction, and they tend to compare themselves with the A-Listers in their field, those who are getting the attention on Linkedin or who are getting all the invitations to conferences, getting invitations to speak on other people's podcasts, and so on and so forth. In the process of that comparison they say to themselves you know what ... They might not be saying it consciously. They may even be saying it unconsciously, “You know what? That just seems so far off for me, so far from being possible.”

They may not deliberately stop putting out their content. They may just be distracted by other things that they consider to be more important. What I want you to consider is this idea of A-List, B-List, C-List and D-List and give yourself an opportunity to work your way up the ladder, and even to consider the possibility of not reaching for A-List status as your ultimate goal.

I want to reference a video here. I'll put a link to it in the show notes, It's from a guy, Alan Weiss. He calls himself the Boutique Consulting Expert. It's a fantastic video where he goes for about an hour and 14 minutes I think it is, well worth listening to every minute of it. I'm going to re-listen to it again and pull out some more quotes.

There was one particular quote in there where Alan said, "Just because you don't achieve the pinnacle doesn't mean you are not successful." If you find yourself ... I don't want to say intimidated, because that's probably not the right word, but if you find yourself comparing yourself to those A-List experts in your field, just leave yourself open to attaining C-List or B-List status and ultimately you may work your way up to A-List if that's of interest to you, or you may be happy to occupy yourself at B-List or C-List status. 

"Just because you don't achieve the pinnacle doesn't mean you are not successful." Alan Weiss @BentleyGTCSpeed

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Where you draw the line between what's a B-List or a C-List, it doesn't really matter. You'll know you're on one of those lists when you are sought after, when you start getting invitations to speak at conferences or someone invites you to join them on their podcast or could you do a guest post on their blog, and so on and so forth, or even when someone just calls you and asks for your opinion. All of those are indications that you have established or are establishing your position as a thought leader.

That essentially is the crux of this episode on the podcast, just an invitation to consider establishing a position for yourself in the middle ground of your field. Another reference Alan made in that video is he talks about everyone being on the Serengeti Plains. That's where the bulk of the people in your field are. It doesn't take much to elevate yourself above the Serengeti Plains. You may not reach the pinnacle, and that's fine. You don't have to reach the pinnacle. In reality you probably only need a handful of clients. Most of your referral work, most of your work is going to come from your first and your second degree connections, but by establishing yourself as a thought leader you make that sort of business development journey so much easier for yourself.

That's the invitation, claim your space. One thing I would invite you to do is to accept that you know more about your field than you probably give yourself credit for. This will help with that imposter syndrome. I have not had a single client who has come to me with that issue and when I've grilled them on their subject they've been able to answer me quite succinctly and in quite a lot of detail, and I would guess that you could do the same as well. Just accept you know more about your field than you give yourself credit for.

Also accept that your own point of view, your own angle on your subject, that can be enough to distinguish you as a thought leader. You've got your expertise, you've got your experience. Layer on top of that your specific angle. The best example I can think of for that is Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, that became what he was known for.

You've probably got something similar rattling around in your brain, or maybe you've even documented it somewhere. Consider building your thought leadership framework around that and you'll do well. You'll at least claim some middle ground and you could very well claim the higher ground in thought leadership as well.

That's it. That's all I've got to say on today's episode of the Authority Elevator. If you want to access the show notes just go to You'll find a link to this episode on there, probably around 11 or 12, I'm not quite sure. In there you will find the link to that video that I was talking about. That's it. Over and out. 


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