Thought Leaders, Visionaries and Other BS Phrases Keeping You from Getting The Gig.

Apparently I either haven’t had enough fiber in my diet lately or just had too many margaritas last night because I woke up cranky. It didn’t help that the first thing I read was an article talking about the over use of self proclaimed and inflated monikers on LinkedIn Bios and profiles.

It was a great article from Inc. Magazine (link below) and I agree 100% with the author, that there are a list of completely grandiose overused and simply BS phrases that too many people use to describe themselves.

The crime is that these people use them as “filler” without knowing the meaning or feel that it suddenly elevates them beyond mediocrity or obscurity into the upper echelon of…. wait for it…. “thought leaders”  Excuse me, I just threw up a little bit.

As a headhunter, the phrase "Thought Leader" alone makes me instantly check out on anyone when they use it about themselves. I see people use this tactic in resumes all the time and I automatically treat them differently… meaning, I’m suspect.

If you have the pelotas to call yourself a “Thought Leader” or “Visionary” you had better bring some some serious game and/or credentials to the table.

Look, if YOU have to call yourself as a “thought leader” you aren’t. Malcom Gladwell IS a thought leader. If YOU claim to be a "visionary"… you better be a gypsy carrying a crystal ball, better yet, read my mind and tell me what I’m thinking about your resume. 

Here is the rule of thumb. If Oprah calls you a “thought leader” then by God (or by Oprah) you ARE a thought leader and I’d shout that from the roof tops. You’ve earned it.

If a leading publication (I mean Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, WSJ or an industry publication… not some random blog by a guy living in his mom’s basement or Cat Fancy) refers to you as a “visionary” then go for it.  Otherwise, it is meaningless, you might as well call yourself Abe Froman, The Sausage King of Chicago.

Now full disclosure, I'm a big proponent of colorfully describing yourself to stand out, but at one point in my career I too was guilty of this. For me the tipping point that made me realize I might be a wee bit over the top was several years ago when I spoke at an event where I was on the same program as the Governor of Oklahoma.

Our bios were listed next to each other in the program and the Governor’s bio was skinny compared to mine, which gave the appearance that I had not only invented the post it note, but fire, the wheel and salsa dancing. I knew it was time to scale the hyperbole back and instead, talk about what I’ve achieved or how others see or have described me, rather than the being the self proclaimed "master of the universe”… wait that was “He Man”  Never mind. 

In all seriousness you can couch it in a way that is more palatable, for example, “clients have referred to me as…” or “people I’ve worked with have said…” Better yet, get testimonials. Or refer to what you hope to achieve or your method or philosophy or approach… not claiming that you are defacto… "The end all be all” 

Hyperbole is so old school. 

People are so jaded to marketing hyperbole now that these claims are really falling on deaf ears and area really old school.

I used to do a TON of professional speaking and belonged to one of the big Speakers Associations. Many of the people were fantastic and provided real value, but there were several of the self proclaimed, “America’s favorite”…. “The #1 Corporate Blah Blah Blah in America” or some other bullshit claim that could not be backed up and was often by someone who never really did any business. Really? It is okay to claim to be among the best, one of the top etc… but "THE BEST" or AMERICA’S FAVORITE. 

What does that even mean? 

Some of this stuff may sound cool but it just doesn’t mean anything.

I once worked with a guy who thought of himself as this high intellectual just because he read Harvard Business Review. Truth was he was not the sharpest pencil in the drawer. However, on his profile he called himself a “Business Enthusiast”. WTF is that? You can be a classic car enthusiast, a heavy metal enthusiast, but really? 

Turns out this is the same guy who in a meeting asked what the N in P&L stood for. Yeah, we were just as confused. We said, it is a P AND L as in Profit AND Loss. He said, "Oh, I thought it was a PNL." To quote Homer Simpson, “Doh!” Well, I expected more from a business "enthooooooosiast."

Me thinks the lady doth protest too much - Don't Tell Me, Show Me

A while back I went on a date with a very successful woman who made it a point to tell me no less than five times that evening that she was “a very independent woman”… five times... before dinner was over. She also referred to herself in the third person which of course is a major Red Flaaaaag but that’s another story. The point is, don’t tell me you're independent, a thought leader, visionary or forward thinking or progressive… show me. 

If you have these things in your resume or profile, realize how empty and off putting they can initially be to a client or employer. And if you do... (ugh) you better deliver and follow up with concrete examples of how you are "amazing"

However, in the words of Dizzy Dean, "If you’ve done it, it ain’t bragging"… but it is always better if you can back it up or better yet, have someone else back it up for you. 

I’m off to find some bran and advil and be on with my day… carry on you crazy visionary thought leaders. 

Here is the article I was talking about earlier

Let me hear from you. Leave a comment in the section below. Tell me the most over used or inflated phrases you hear. 


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