"Thought leadership means that you are actually leading, that you have something that inspires people to go into a different direction," Mark Levy told me during this week's episode of Marketing Smarts (you can listen to the podcast in its entirety below).

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He continued, "The fact that other people are involved, that they're following what you're coming up with, that's the key point of thought leadership."

Anyone planning on "doing more thought leadership" needs to listen closely to what Mark is saying: Thought leadership doesn't depend on what you think about your ideas and your perspective; it depends on whether other people are in fact following your lead.

You don't choose to be a thought leader, in other words; you become a thought leader. How? By inspiring people to act.

The key to thought leadership, then, is to inspire, and to inspire specifically by bringing to the world a new idea, a big idea,  a "signature idea" (as Mark calls it).

Coming up with this idea, of course, is the hard part, but Mark has a method for helping his clients do so, and it begins with getting them "off track."

"First thing I ask them about is their parents. I say, 'Where were you born? What did your parents do? What was it like growing up?...What did you do that was mischievous?...Tell me stories about this. Tell me stories about that,'" Mark explains when describing how he works with clients. His intent is to free them from their ingrained, everyday patterns of thought, to put their internal editor out of commission, and to get them out of their immediate, business mindset.

By following that circuitous path, Mark ultimately allows his clients to access and express the experiences, insights, and abilities that set them apart from others.

Since your signature idea needs to be, like your actual signature, uniquely your own, it makes sense that this voyage of discovery begins by turning inward. Indeed, Mark insists that you can't start with "what the marketplace wants from you."

"The marketplace only knows what the marketplace has seen... The marketplace only knows what it wants, and it might lead you astray from what it is you really should be doing," he cautions.

This may seem counterintuitive: To uncover the big idea that will help you stand out in the marketplace, you need to turn away from the marketplace. What makes that paradoxical approach absolutely appropriate, however, is that you will inevitably find an audience for any idea you come up with.

"The stuff that fascinates you and that you found helpful and the stuff that helps you live your life...there is a population out there that will find the same things fascinating and the same things helpful. So you get that stuff out there, in detail, and then you use it in everything you do, and the right audience, who will truly appreciate you at your best and who you can truly help them in a really meaningful way, will seek you out and you will have a ball serving them."

With that inspiring thought in mind, what are you future thought leaders doing to uncover your signature idea?

You can hear my entire conversation with Mark Levy above, download the mp3, or simply read the transcript. Check out past episodes of Marketing Smarts here or subscribe in iTunes.Thanks for listening!

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