Should You Call Yourself a "Thought Leader" on LinkedIn?

Imagine that Miss USA had a LinkedIn profile. Now imagine that somewhere in that profile she included the phrase, "I’m beautiful." Why? Because she believed it was a keyword or phrase by which others would find a beauty queen.

Now imagine that the late Steve Jobs had a LinkedIn profile, and somewhere in his profile he said, "I'm an innovator." Why? Because he had a hunch that someone might enter “innovator” into LinkedIn’s Advanced Search tool to find someone like him.

Do either of the above scenarios sound right? 

These people simply are those things, and to say so—out loud or in writing—might leave the reader to conclude that person's arrogance or question their professional judgement. The reader might even rightfully question the claim’s veracity.

I even raise an eyebrow when someone in finance makes a point of saying they are ethical. Really? The fact that one is explicitly stating such a hopefully obvious point makes me question its truth. Especially if one is a CFA or a CPA or has a FINRA license. The notion of ethics is embedded in the very make up of those designations.

I mention it because a phrase my clients frequently want layered into their stories has increasingly become some form of:"I am a thought leader."

When clients ask me about its inclusion, I share with them the examples above and then we decide how we can "show" instead of "tell" the reader that they are thought leaders.

The challenges with explicitly saying you are a thought leader:

  • If you have to say it, then you probably aren't. (It's never too late to start.)
  • If you say it, you might come across in a way that contradicts your carefully curated brand.
  • If you say it, you may one day have to defend the claim.

Ways to frame thought leadership when you are a thought leader:

  • Through another lens. For instance, you can discuss your team's thought leadership, which then shines favorably back onto you.
  • Through the eyes of others. Ask others to explicitly use/discuss/mention the phrase in a LinkedIn Recommendation. Only if you are truly a thought leader, of course. No need to make your friend squirm. (This LinkedIn post will help them with the task of writing your LinkedIn Recommendation.)
  • Through various LinkedIn profile sections. LinkedIn offers a way to present yourself as a thought leader via  "Publications," "Projects," "Patents," and other credibility-confirming sections.

More showing. Less telling.