This morning I came across some interesting thinking on thought leadership from Dana Vanden Heuvel. Dana re-read Peters and Waterman’s In Search of Excellenceand noted the similarities in the operating principles outlined in that famous book and the ways that today’s thought leading companies operate. Read Dana’s piece for the premises. Here are a few thoughts I have about two of his insights.

1. Thought Leaders, like the excellent companies that Peters and Waterman studied in 1982, are hands on and values driven. The best thought leaders are also the best practitioners.

  • This goes to an idea that I like to promote, which is sometimes called “walking the talk”, and can best be defined as congruence and authenticity. People see through inauthentic leadership pretty fast and it only raises the level of cynicism in an organization, marketplace or community. Congruence requires that if I am going to advocate something as good for you, I had better be practicing it myself. I need to eat my own cooking!

2. Thought leading organizations have simultaneous loose-tight configurations.

  • Companies that embody a thought leadership approach, are fanatical about their values, philosophy and core competency. This solid grounding in “how we do things” allows tremendous freedom and autonomy for individuals.


  • When everyone understands that the process is the most important product, it frees creativity and enables the leaders of the organization to trust that appropriate actions will be taken even when nobody’s watching.


  • A strong core, just like in sports, allows an organization to extend itself further without injuring itself. This allows trying out new things, perhaps with a pilot team in a remote market or with a new technology.

Dana made an intriguing connection here. I also note that while he was 6 years old in 1982, I was 21! It’s hard to overstate the impact that In Search of Excellence had on business, publishing and consulting. These authors were clearly thought leaders.

How did reading this book shape your ideas about leading?