Potential thought leaders take their work seriously. Thought leadership emerges not only from expertise but also from commitment and passion. When you take something seriously, the idea of making mistakes or misstatements can create a lot of anxiety.
Moreover, while other people in the public sphere might not mind shooting from the hip, most thought leaders prefer caution and nuance. As a result, you might hesitate to voice an opinion or make a prediction, especially when you are still building a reputation as a thought leader.
It comes down to a very simple concern: “what if I’m wrong?”
The very simple answer: “it doesn’t matter.”
I’m not referring to egregious errors or purposeful misinformation, of course. I’m not recommending that you develop a more casual relationship with the truth.
But in general, there are a few reasons why it doesn’t matter whether you might be wrong on a particular point.
Facts can be checked. In writing or recorded formats, you can literally go back and check them. In live formats such as presentations or media interviews, you can memorize the most relevant facts and stick to them.
People rarely, if ever, go back and “check the tapes” on your past comments and observations with the same kind of scrutiny that you fear. Your more recent thought leadership matters more because memories are short.
People understand the difference between statements of fact and statements of belief, value, or judgment. They evaluate such statements with different criteria.
People respond to thought leadership by asking (usually subconsciously) whether it’s plausible, well-reasoned, and helps them understand something new. Think of these as the three Cs: clear, compelling, and credible.
Thought leadership works in the aggregate over the long haul. You’re a thought leader by virtue of being a consistent part of the conversation. It’s not dependent on one remark. It’s not even dependent on one article or one book.
For these reasons, you have to look at the big picture — visibility and reputation are always a long-term play.