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Three Characteristics of Successful Thought Leaders

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Not everyone can be a thought leader. But if you scan your LinkedIn home page long enough, you'll start to think that everyone thinks they are. To be a true thought leader (and not a "thinkboi" as Beck points out in the article), it takes more than posting a long thread on X (formerly known as Twitter) or LinkedIn on a random tech topic of the day. 

Thought leaders have three key characteristics: personal perspective, confident vulnerability, and practice their craft consistently. BAM CEO and Founder Beck Bamberger recently wrote about what it takes to tell a compelling story in her recent Forbes article, reshared below.

This post was originally published on Forbes. Read the full article here


I doubt anyone wants to be a "thinkboi." As Erin Griffith so artfully described in the New York Times, a "thinkboi" is someone who—instead of working hard and finding success as a thought leader does—decides to "skip the grueling, boring part and tweet as if [they] already are a success." Silicon Valley is often a meme in itself, and many of my company's clients, venture-capital-backed startup founders, are keenly aware of it.

So how does one avoid the trappings of a "thinkboi" and elevate to the coveted legitimacy of a thought leader? There are three requirements.

Personal Perspective


This is the first requirement my team has our VC-backed founders consider before rushing into any thought leadership campaign. Personal perspective pertains to your lived experience and actual merits. An unusual upbringing, rare advanced degrees, or a compelling first-person story are examples of components of distinct personal perspectives.

I met a founder a few weeks ago in San Francisco, for instance. He identified as a gay Black man who was a sex worker for several years and turned his community-building skills into a social media analytics startup. That’s an uncommon personal perspective in Silicon Valley, as opposed to another founder I met the same week who had dropped out of Stanford to start an artificial intelligence bot startup.

As another example, one founder we work with survived breast cancer and built a hardware company to solve hair loss. She comes from a political background, not a medical one, which is unusual and should be used in her thought leadership. Ensure you're sharing your unique personal perspective in your content to help yourself stand out as a founder.

Confident Vulnerability

Right now, it’s fairly easy to spot an AI-generated LinkedIn post or social media comment. In my experience, some common signs often include the use of a rocket ship emoji, three vague hashtags, and a few bland phrases such as “Excited to announce...” or “So grateful for this accomplishment.”

The furor over AI is hot right now. But from my perspective, a bot is never going to win an award or be on stage at a major tech conference because AI, as a thought leader, is boring. That's why I consider confident vulnerability—the ability to write and speak in your own voice from your distinct personal perspective—to be the second requirement of becoming a thought leader.

Some of our founders get nervous about “vulnerability,” but I mean the term as simply the willingness to use language and phrases you would normally use (within appropriate reason). In other words, avoid using language and phrases that would sound like an AI bot. For instance, tell a story from an actual customer and the dialogue you exchanged (redacted as needed), or detail a specific example of a situation you navigated with your real investor.


A lot of our VC-backed startup founders are wickedly sharp, clear on who they are, and possess a certain magic that helped them garner funding in the first place. They easily have two of the first three thought leadership requirements, but the last one is perhaps the most vexing: consistency. Building up a real (not bought) following online, getting regularly invited to be a panelist on big industry stages and cementing your authority surrounding a certain industry or topic takes time, often several months or years. There is no “hack” to becoming an authority. More than once, my team has advised a client to not start a thought leadership campaign due to self-reported lack of time, over time.

The line between "thinkboi" and thought leadership is fortunately easy to draw. A more challenging task is executing to become a thought leader. Like all things in Silicon Valley, ideas and hopes are worthless. It’s execution over time that cements the VC-backed startup founders from others, particularly when it comes to thought leadership.


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