TEDxLibrariansTO Countdown Questions: Day 2: On the qualities of a thought leader

Following on from the last three days, here are my answers for today's TEDxLibrariansTO Countdown Questions:

Question 1: What are the similarities or characteristics of thought leaders that you know? Tell us about the attributes that your ideal thought leader would have.

I don't think any one person could actually have all the qualities of the idea thought leader but there are some commonalities across the ones I've encountered.

  • Originality. A thought leader needs to bring something new to the public sphere, or at very least take an established idea and present it in a fresh, original way.
  • Humbleness or Humility. A thought leader needs to be able to understand and accept their own limitations and the limitations of their ideas.
  • Vision. Not all thought leaders will have a vision of how things could be improved or changed, but most will.
  • Consistency. A thought leader needs to have a focus and not be jumping around a bunch of different ideas. While they need to be flexible and adaptable, wishy-washy probably won't work either.
  • Articulate and Accessible. They need to be able to explain their ideas clearly and concisely.
  • Domain Knowledge. A thought leader needs to actually know something and not just guess or speculate or BS.
  • Perspective. And by this I mean a kind of awareness of the scope and limitations of their ideas. They also need a solid historical context about their domain area of expertise so that they're not just repeating what others have said before. They need to understand what their ideas mean and how they apply to the world. They need to avoid any kind of false universalization and over generalization -- that's what annoys me most. I'm a grownup, I can take complexity. This is kind of where I would distinguish between a thought leader and a guru. Thought leaders are closer to what we would understand as public intellectuals -- people that really have something to offer. Whereas a guru would more likely be someone who's ideas were ultimately empty or superficial.

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