The Pen Is The Path To Becoming A Thought Leader

I’ve never thought of myself as a leader. I’ve never been a CEO or even a manager. I’ve never coached sports teams, led youth groups or conducted worship services. I’m just a teacher, a writer, and a dreamer. Does this sound familiar?

Image by Nic McPhee

Image by Nic McPhee

The majority of us are followers, and chances are good that you’re one of us. Sure, you may aspire to be a leader and perhaps you’re acting as a leader to a specific group of people, a team. But what if I told you there’s a kind of leadership other than face-to-face leadership? What if I said you can develop leadership skills over time that could influence thousands, even millions of people?

You can. And you can do it from your living room, your office, or even the local coffee shop. How? Through the consistent act and art of writing.

Great leaders need to hone the fine art of writing and communication in order to be the most effective leaders possible. Great writers, on the other hand, can become leaders of entire movements without ever holding an appointed or elected leadership position.

I’ve seen the term thought leader tossed around a lot lately. According to Forbes Magazine, 

“Thought Leadership is simply about becoming an authority on relevant topics by delivering the answers to the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience.”

This is what great writers do. They choose a niche, topic, or passion that they love. They read, study, and research their topic thoroughly. They practice the craft of writing regularly and share their words and ideas with others. They become an expert, the authority on their chosen topic.

In the world of blogging, we might consider people like Michael Hyatt, Brian Clark, Darren Rowse, and John Saddington as thought leaders.

But if we go back in American history, we’ll discover great authors and books that changed the shape of our nation. In my mind, great writers are the greatest examples of thought leaders. Here are five thought leaders that changed the nation we live in:

Thomas Paine, Common Sense: Without this book there might be no America as we know it today. Many historians credit Paine’s book as the spark of independence.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin: This book brought attention to the issue of slavery so that it could no longer be ignored. Without this profound and best-selling book the ugliness of slavery may have never been exposed.

Upton Sinclair, The Jungle: This great classic exposed poor practices in our meat industry and pointed out the problem of poverty in our nation. The book led to significant legal changes in the food and safety industry and employment laws.

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring: This non-fiction title pointed out the misuse and environmental dangers of pesticides. It led to the modern conservation movement.

John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath: Winner of the 1939 Pulitzer Prize, this book exposed the extreme conditions faced by displaced migrant workers and unfair labor practices. The book led to new legislation to help migrants and their families and added fuel to the union labor movement.

There are other great writers and books that have led to change worldwide. Where would Christianity be without The Bible? Writers such as St. Thomas Aquinas, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, and Ayn Rand have influenced the entire world with their words.

So did these great authors set out to be great leaders? That’s hard to answer definitively, but one thing is for certain: Great writing has the potential to influence the masses. Great writers can become thought leaders within a specific industry or a specific discipline. Great writers can influence entire regions, nations, and large populations of people.

So whether you’re a hands-on leader or a writer first, writing is an art you absolutely must continue to practice if you want to gain authority in your area of expertise.

Question: What are you writing that can lead others to change?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

This was a guest post by Dan Erickson. Dan is a writer, blogger, teacher, and musician. He was the child victim of a religious cult and struggled through his twenties, but came to forgive his greatest enemies. His first book, A Train Called Forgiveness, chronicles his own story in a captivating fictional format. Dan blogs about writing, music, and life, and emphasizes the importance of forgiveness in our lives. You can follow Dan’s blog @ Follow him on Twitter @ and Facebook @

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I don’t know if I would consider myself to be a thought leader, but I recently wrote an article dealing with self-esteem and outer looks. It can be read here: Others can change their perceptions of themselves by accepting themselves, regardless of what they look like.Self-esteem is an issue faced by many leaders, since even leaders question themselves at some point.

    • Thanks for sharing, Lorraine. The way we perceive ourselves is imperative to our leadership. I don’t perceive myself as a traditional leader, but as someone who influences others through teaching and writing. I’m not sure I’ve reached “thought leader” status either, but it’s always in reach for any of us. I’m going to check out your article now.

    • Lorraine, I think that qualifies as you as a thought leader. If you’re sharing what’s on your mind and it’s affecting lives, which it is, then you’re leading with your thoughts. Keep it up!

      BTW, I made a mistake in the post and forgot to include that was a guest post by @DanErickson8:disqus. He did a fantastic job on it, huh?

      • Thank, Joe. Yes, Dan did a terrific job!
        Everyone makes mistakes, Joe; even the best of us. No one is mad at you, and I am sure that Dan has forgiven you.

        • Oh, I know everyone makes mistakes and I’m pretty positive Dan has forgiven the oversight. Just wanted to make it clear. Hope you had a fantastic weekend!

          • What did I do this weekend? I wrote a letter/post for you, and sent it to your guest-post email! I hope you got it! 🙂

  • I consider you a leader Joseph.

    And I am pretty sure your wife does. And your church.

    And every reader here.

    I think considering yourself a leader is like considering yourself a writer. It’s a declaration. I am a write. I am a leader.

    There, I wrote it. I declared it. Now…to not let it get to my head 🙂

    • Declarations are always good, Matt. I consider Joseph a leader, too. But I don’t consider myself a leader, at least not in the traditional sense.

    • Matt, I made a snafu on this post and forgot to include the byline for @DanErickson8:disqus. This was his guest post.

      • Well I stand by it. 🙂

        And for @DanErickson8:disqus too.

        • Thanks, Matt. At some point I might take the step from writer/influencer, to traditional leadership in speaking/education, etc. Right now I’m focusing on my little girl.

  • And by the way, we’re not too far from each other. I am in Fort Wayne. We’ll (me, my wife and daughter) be coming up to South Haven either this summer or next again and I work closely with a company in Grand Rapids (well, a suburb). When I’m up there, I’d love to buy you lunch and chat.

    • I would love to get together sometime for lunch and drinks if you’re in the area. It would be great to meet you and see what’s going on. I’m fairly close to Grand Rapids (about 30 minutes away). Hit me up sometime and we’ll see what we can do.

      • Great. We usually make it to Holland too which is like your backyard 🙂

        • Yeah, that’s pretty close to us as well. I actually work in Grand Haven and that’s half way to Holland!

  • Thanks for the chance to guest post on your blog, Joe. I have a busy Saturday, but will try to check in to respond to comments a few times.

    • My pleasure Dan. I’m sorry I forgot to put your byline in. It completely slipped my mind but it’s taken care of now. Have a great day!

      • No problem, Joe. It happens. I emailed someone named Erin the other day and called her Emily.

  • This is a great post Joe. It’s great because it reveals a timeless principle. I really like John Maxwell’s definition of leadership – leadership is influence, nothing more nothing less.

    Those who put their thoughts in a medium that can be spread quickly and easily are moved into a leadership position because they are influencing the thinking of others.

    You definitely influence my thinking Joe, so thanks for being such an effective leader.

    • Thanks Adam. It’s really @DanErickson8:disqus’s post and I forgot to include his byline.

      • No problem Joe. It’s an excellent post either way. Great job Dan!

        • Thanks, Adam. As bloggers we’re all doing our best to use a medium to spread ideas.

  • I love learning from leaders like on Entreleadership and Andy Stanley’s podcast. My new business idea may jump start my leadership to the next level! Now I need to start : D

    • Awesome Alex! What’s holding you back from starting?

      • Time and lack of discipline. I have so many things going on right now. Plus I’m moving to Michigan very soon. My idea is about a leadership podcast 🙂

        • Just remember about the lack of time: Everyone has the same amount of time. It’s how we use it that determines whether or not we’ll get the important things done.

          And that’s exciting you’re moving to Michigan. Where will you be moving to? If it’s close, maybe we could get together for lunch or coffee sometime.

  • Great post, Dan. “The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.” Our focus is not for us, but for the truth of our Father, Who can use the words to change one heart that might be used to change the world. Excellent examples, my friend. You’re a thinker for sure…

    • Thanks, Floyd. I know the pen is mightier than the sword, but lately I’m also thinking about how to get hands-on, too. I’m going to take my daughter to a local youth house for her birthday and see about getting involved as volunteers.

    • Floyd, you’re right. When we’re focused on the right things, hearts can change.

  • Great post Dan. And I would disagree with you about being a leader. I had a chance to see what you are doing with your blog and personal story. Very inspiring. Enjoy the weekend!

    • Thanks, Sean. I just don’t feel like a “traditional” leader. I know I’m doing some things that might inspire and help others, but I do it as much out of a therapeutical need as anything else. I do appreciate your encouragement.

    • Sean, thanks for stopping by and encouraging Dan. I think we’re all bigger leaders than we think.

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  • Dan,

    Great post battle buddy! I would agree we need to perfect the art of communication. Clear and concise communication is the 20 percent that helps us achieve 80 percent of our goals!!


    • Perfect to a point. I’m not a big fan of perfection, but we should always do our best to be clear and concise. I make communication a challenge, trying to create messages that are simple, direct, and tactful, even when the situation is difficult. I’m not always successful, but I’m always learning and improving. Thanks for being a part of the conversation, TJ.

  • Terrie

    Thanks Dan for your wonderful truth-filled post. As I read your article the words of that famous quote ” the pen is mightier than the sword” rang in my ears. As a Christian writer my heart focus is sharing Jesus and the everyday truth of scriptures with others. My goal is to encourage them to keep growing and discover something new in their life of faith.

    Peace and Blessings!

    • Thanks, Terrie. The pen is definitely mightier than the sword. Words can actually be a sword, cutting in more than one way. We should do our best to use them to spread truth and lift others up.

    • Terrie, that same poem came to my mind as I read Dan’s post. It’s truer than we think.

  • Our method may have changed since a couple of hundred years ago – but writing is still the way to get our message out there and be thought leaders. There really is nothing new, just new ways of presenting and making relevant to others. I’d also argue that you are a leader – even if you are just leading yourself and your family.

    • You’re right, Tom. And the new writing methods give us so much more opportunity, presence, and control. It’s amazing. And I know I do use some leadership in regard to my family and my students. Just not a CEO or anything.

    • That’s so true Tom. Writing has been a method of getting our thoughts as a leader out there for hundreds and thousands of years.

  • DS

    Dan – Tremendous illustrations on past “thought leaders.” The written word has always had the ability to make significant impact on readers. Appreciate your final question as a great way to reflect on purpose in my writing.

    • Thanks, TS. My hope is always that I’m writing in a way that can help others lead themselves better. Reflection is always a reat process.

  • I had never really considered this angle before on leadership, but it makes perfect sense. I think the “thought leaders” in any field are some of the most influential people – and many times they have no formal followers.

    • Thought leaders normally are just that. The ideas that flow from them radically change the landscape of many organizations.

  • Charly Priest

    Thought leaders, whoever coined that name…it makes a lot of sense. Except the writing of Karl Marx, didn´t turn out too good for humanity, but the rest I had no idea, very interesting.

    • Charly, the interesting thing is that Karl was still a thought leader. Maybe not for the good of humanity but he led by his thoughts. I think he’s a good reminder of why we’ve got to be conscious of the work we’re doing.

    • Karl Marx is better in theory, on paper, than in practice. He had some good ideas and he was a thought leader, but his overall plan had some problems. I agree with Joe, that looking at the bad helps us to be conscious of what we’re doing.

  • rcsinclair952

    I had never felt that I was a “traditional” leader. Even though I have done some writing, I have found I have more influence “behind the house” editing and contributing to a Leadership blog. This way I can magnify the reach of the message. With my work, I influence. I think of myself as a leader. If that makes me a thought leader, I am OK with that.

    • Sometimes it’s the ones behind the scenes that really make things happen.

      • rcsinclair952

        Great article, Dan.

        • Thanks. I’m finding that my guest posts often outshine posts on my own site because I try a bit harder to get them just so.

    • That type of work can be just as important as being the writer or the speaker. Without those doing the behind the scenes work, things wouldn’t get done.

  • Lakiesha McKnight

    I have never thought that a pen or a writing can help you in the path of becoming great leader. Really an interesting and helpful post to read..I jut love this post and also love to read leadership magazines

    • Lakiesha, I’m glad Dan has helped you see how writing and the pen can be a great leadership tool. It helps to get our thoughts and ideas out there into the world.

  • I write about life’s stretch marks. I hope to stretch others while documenting my stretching experiences and thoughts.

    • You’re doing just that Jon. Keep at it buddy!

  • Wow, I never thought that the term “thought leader” existed.And it makes sense. Written words can change the world. So many times we associate leadership with traditional leadership roles. But who’s the leader of these traditional leaders? Most probably the thought leaders.

    Thanks Dan for the interesting perspective

    • Wan, words are powerful. They change lives. If we share those powerful words, there’s leadership (-: How can you use your thoughts and words to influence others?

  • That sir, was a very encouraging and inspiring post. Thanks.

  • Tim Woods

    This is a great post. Couldn’t agree more.

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  • RcMaFitness

    I really, really love Thomas Paine’s work — Common Sense — most definitely a favorite. What a gift of literary work that is!