Thoughts on Thought Leadership in Education

My thoughts on ‘Thought Leadership’, especially in the context of education.

Leadership is about influencing others and in the case of Thought Leadership in Education, I believe, it is about influencing others with your ideas of constitutes good education.

This thinking has direct bearing on me because I am keen on influencing others about how the information technology revolution has placed us in the midst of a paradigm shift, just like advent of language, writing and printing-press had earlier done, that requires us to reconsider what is relevant education and how it should be imparted and learnt.

Thought leadership in education need not be coercive leadership or a leadership that influences others through economic inducement rather, in my view, thought leadership has much to borrow from ‘soft power’.


According to Professor Joseph Nye[i] soft power is ‘attraction that leads to acquiescence’ as opposed to hard power that is either coercive or is based on economic inducement.

When others admire your values or your ‘story’ they want to emulate you, and such influence requires neither force nor money. This is soft power in action.

Thought leadership too should be based on tenets of soft power. Your ‘idea’ or ‘story’ alone must be attractive enough to influence others. For example, I would like to advocate the idea that the ‘next generation educated person’ needs to cultivate dispositions that the current formal education rarely provides. These dispositions include – self-learning, self-understanding, deep and independent thinking skills, narrative skills and ability to collaborate.

How can a thought leader propagate his or her ideas?



First, a thought leader should be clearly able to articulate the difference between ‘What is’ and ‘What is Possible’.

Then, a thought leader should know how to create interesting ‘memes’ for ‘What is Possible’ and propagate these memes using different means, including electronic ones like tweets, SMS, blog, Facebook presence, Scribd, SlideShare and more.

Art of the Narrative

Art of Story-Telling has much to offer in creating interesting memes. Stories rely on an optimal mix of ethos, pathos and logos to make a point. That is, stories have a right mix of facts, emotions and rationality that influences others. While creating memes, a thought leader should come up with different arguments for ‘what is possible’ ideas that are based on facts, emotions and rationality.

A story progresses on conflict and its resolution. In the context of education related memes the ‘conflict’ would be the underlying fears and hesitations learners may have in adopting the new ‘what is possible’ idea. Usually such conflict is fear or failure or ridicule in trying something new, or fixity with current idea, fallacious thinking or simply inertia. A thought leader must understand these underlying conflicts that will impede adoption of the idea and use ethos, pathos and logos to suggest resolutions.


Thought leaders should analyze ‘myths’ to learn about wide temporal and spatial dissemination of ideas. For example, Joseph Campbell[ii], an expert on myths, has explained in detail the ‘Hero’s Journey’ metaphor so often used in myths. In this metaphor an individual receives a ‘call to action’, is reluctant to heed the call because of fear of failure or ridicule, finally goes on the journey, meets and clears obstacles, has an epic struggle and finally returns as master of both the worlds.

A learner is like a ‘hero’ who has to be taken on a journey by the thought leader. The thought leader starts by explaining ‘what is’ and ‘what is possible’ and using ethos, pathos and logos first cajoles the learner into embarking on the journey, then helps the learner overcome hurdles, the epic struggle could be with un-challenged, pre-conceived notions the learner holds and if the thought leader is successful in influencing the learner then learner will be master of both worlds.


Instead of a having a limited, time-bound ripple effect that creates a small sphere of influence, technology today permits the thought leader to create a ‘global network of influence’ where ideas can propagate at the speed of light.

In networks of influence conversation is the capital[iii]. Conversations help bring depth and clarity of understanding and help influence a large number of people through word-of-mouth (in this case electronic mouths like Facebook and Twitter). Conversations propagate the energy of the thought.


Thought leadership influence is based on what author Daniel Pink[iv] has described as Motivation 3.0. That is, instead of depending on the lower level needs in Maslow’s pyramid, thought leaders should look at the new operating system of motivation – a system driven by Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

In other words, ‘what is possible’ is driven more by learner becoming autonomous and self-led, a master of the particular craft, and pursuing challenges that go beyond self-interest and give meaning to learner’s life.


Thought leadership, like soft power, has a diffused general influence and may not elicit an easily observable specific action.

Similarly, the reciprocity may also be diffused and delayed and may not result in an immediate exchange.

A thought leader thus needs to have tremendous patience and resilience to try out different memes to reach out to people with different dispositions, experimenting with different combinations of ethos, pathos and logos.

[i] ‘The Benefits of Soft Power’ article by Joseph Nye –

[ii] ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ – a book by Joseph Campbell

[iii] ‘Conversational Capital’ – a book by Bertrand Cesvet and others

[iv] ‘Drive’ – a book by Daniel H Pink

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