Episode 92: The Difference Between Being a Leader and a Thought Leader

May 23, 2022

THERE ARE PLENTY OF PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO ARE SEEN AS THOUGHT LEADERS – those who are in authority in a field or a sphere or on a topic. Thought leadership and wanting to become a thought leader is getting thrown around a lot lately but do thought leaders actually lead? Are they focusing on themselves and their authority or are they helping others and looking at who they’re taking with them? Because to me that is what leadership is all about. It’s about who you are taking with you.

You want to know the health of someone’s leadership? Look at the health of their team. You want to know the health of someone’s leadership in their family? Look at the health of what’s going on in their home. Some of these thought leaders have team members who are not being elevated and kids who aren’t singing their praises and spouses who don’t see the same magic that is perceived by the masses. 

So, today we’re going to talk about the fact that, from my vantage point, thought leadership and true leadership are not necessarily synonymous. This is such an important conversation that’s going to help you step into thought leadership, something that you’re working towards while also leading well in your business and your home.


[3:14] True Thought Leadership

Being a thought leader is kind of a buzz term right now that leads a lot of us envying and admiring what other people have accomplished or built, but does it accurately reflect what’s happening behind the scenes or someone’s true level of leadership? 

There are plenty of thought leaders who walk the walk, but there’s a big difference between being someone who is perceived as a leader in their ideas versus someone who is leading others. There are three things that come to mind when I think of someone who is a true thought leader:

  • Are you living it? Are you walking the walk? Do you actually honor the values that you’re speaking of? Do you actually live by the strategies or the knowledge that you know of?
  • Are you gifting it? Is it all about you and how you can have a bigger platform or get on bigger stages? Are you paying it forward? 
  • Are you leading others? Are you actually living in leadership? Because leadership cannot happen in a vacuum.

This industry as a whole pushes this idea that the pinnacle of success is thought leadership. If you can become known for this idea that you can put in a book or you can speak about on a stage or on a podcast – that’s the pinnacle of success. This is completely disregarding all that comes with it and how you have to live by it and how to actually be a leader as you are thought leading. 

You don’t want to just be a thought leader. You want to be embodying leadership, and I’m going to break down what I mean by that.

[5:56]  You See the Difference? 

Once people get behind the veil, it’s obvious that to be a leader in ideas is not the same as being a leader in your life. 

These two things should happen in tandem. If you are mastering leadership in business, you should be living by those same leadership principles in your home. If you’re only honoring it in one world, it’s time to be congruent and be the leader you’re called to be. 

I’ve seen and I’ve worked with plenty of clients who are tremendous thought leaders and they have such a gift for their work. They can lead so beautifully around their thoughts and ideas, they can cultivate it into offers and products that are literally being passed around the world. But when they come out of their bubble of creation, what’s left? Have they led people or have they just rallied people around an idea? 

Ask yourself if you want your legacy to be what the masses think because they heard you say it or they saw you write it or what your people know, because they saw you live it? This has been epitomized multiple times in my life by my grandfather and my mother. People knew the leader my grandfather was and they know the leader and the good hearted person my mom is. Not because of what she says, not because of her works, but because of how she lives and then her works follow how she lives. You see the difference?

[12:35]  Thought Leadership is Not Luminary Leadership

We’re all out here chasing thought leadership, we’re out here chasing and creating the works. But what if we lived in alignment with the values required to create the works and the works were created naturally? 

We talk a lot about leadership on the show, hence Luminary Leadership. Thought leadership is not luminary leadership. It’s not true leadership necessarily. It’s almost like positional leadership: you’re really great at something, you know something really well and that means you are a thought leader. But we’re talking about leadership not just from the standpoint of impressive knowledge or influence, but also the embodiment of a series of characteristics and values that are lived out consistently across all categories of life, in business and at home. 

Leadership is not a position or a title. It is a way of living. It’s a way of being and although you can be both, don’t strive for thought leadership first. Instead become the leader you’re called to be first, so that you can naturally tap into the thought leadership game.

This idea of being a thought leader has taken entrepreneurship by storm. We believe that if we can master a concept well and share it and that goes viral, we’ve made it. But what happens next? How do we sustain it? If we are seen for what we know, but we haven’t become who we need to be to carry that responsibility, what happens? Do we burn out, do our relationships suffer because we’re living out of integrity, where do we take it from there? 

[15:24]  True Leadership Comes First 

When you set thought leadership as the goal, it’s the wrong focus. It’s like speeding up the process to get to the end as quickly as possible. True leadership, on the other hand, is development over time and really growing into the leader you’re called to be, which then naturally results in becoming a thought leader. So it’s more sustainable, it creates the possibility for continued growth.

So, what opens the door to new opportunities and true impact that becomes a piece of our legacy is first being the leader we need to be to raise ourselves up to that challenge, then thought leadership is not a burden, but evidence of us heeding the call. 

And what about in our homes? What if we chose an embodied leadership first?

As I step a little more boldly into helping you lead your family well as an entrepreneur specifically, I can easily fall into the trap that comes really naturally to me, which is locking myself away creating content, days on end. I could be seen as someone who really knows her stuff, but I could do that all while hardly showing up for my family at all. And I could paint a picture like that’s not the case. That would be thought leadership without true leadership. So, I first pour into myself as a leader. I live it alongside my family. I live by the values I want to honor and my thought leadership starts in my home and then spills out into the world. 

The point I’m making is – the goal is not thought leadership. Thought leadership is the byproduct of true leadership, and it impacts, sustains, and naturally creates our legacy.

I hope today’s episode hits home for you and helps you set the right vision so that you can become who we’re really called to be and make a lifelong impact on your life, the lives of those that you’re serving, and, most importantly, the lives of the people in your own home. Let’s start in our home and let it spill out into the world. You will become that thought leader by putting your energy and focus into becoming a true leader.

Make sure you subscribe because we have some amazing stuff coming your way that you don’t want to miss. Come connect with me on Instagram at @elizhartke! If there’s a topic, a question or a guest you want to hear on the show, just reach out and share that. We do this for you so the more you tell us, the more we can serve.


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