Putting Thought Leadership, Bragging and Chatter in their Place: A Taxonomy of Working Out Loud

I often get queries from people around how I structure my working out loud, particularly in social media, enterprise social networks and other public channels. As always with working out loud, people’s initial reaction is a reluctance to be seen to engage in bragging or self-promotion. A recent and rising concern is the danger of being considered an empty thought leader.

A recent conversation on how I practice working out loud, prompted me to sketch out a taxonomy of the various approaches that I have experienced. I set out below a short guide to this model, how it relate to my personal practice to working out loud and some other every day practices of sales and marketing.

Start with Purpose

My personal purpose in sharing my work is to build meaningful relationships by working out loud. I believe that effective working out loud is a goal to increasing influence and connection with others through shared learning and shared work. That is particularly important when I am sharing as I often do on this blog with a goal of increasing my influence with current or potential future clients of my consulting and speaking work.

Focus on Your Audience and Your Strengths

The approach I take in sharing my work here and in other channels is to not just focus on what I want to share. If I all I did was share what mattered to me then I can’t expect more than to contribute to the content marketing chatter that washes over the planet in all channels. I bring three additional lens to what I share:

  • What my audience wants to hear: much of the literature on content marketing talks about the need to hit the current themes and trends of conversation in your target audience.  However, if you only share what people want to hear then you are pandering. We see this with the endless articles with identical recommendations of platitudes and other motherhood advice.
  • What my audience needs to hear: to ask for attention I have to offer a point of view on what matters to my audience. This may well be one that they don’t share or even wish to share. Remember there is a danger in thinking you know what’s best for others. Leaving this advice open to learning through working out loud is a good way to test your perception of what is needed and mitigates against resistance from the audience. If I focus only on sharing what they need to do, I will fall into the trap of preaching.
  • What I do well:  Sharing doesn’t demand that you do anything. Much thought leadership is just talk even if it is a catching package of what is needed and wanted. A key differential is the ability to base your working out loud in actual work and practice. The practical lessons of real work help ground what you share and add to its richness.

Build Influence to Deepen Relationships


The most powerful and most effective influence occurs at the intersection of what I share, what I do well, and what my audience wants and needs to hear. The more my working out loud is focused on this domain and to the right into the harder realm of what my audience need, but may not yet appreciate, the greater the value to both my work and that of my audience. Telling people what you do well that they already value is just bragging. The ultimate value is giving people new insights or new actions that enable them to make progress in new ways.

Because this approach to influence is based in competence and consideration of what clients want and needs, it is highly conducive to an enduring relationship with the audience. The goal is to use openness, practicality and value to build trust and deepen the connection through shared learning, collaboration and shared work. Working out loud in this way (and building a system to enable consistent sharing in this way) has fostered great relationships and accelerated my pursuit of mastery too.

What You Don’t Share

It is also worth spending a minute on the areas that are not shared openly:

  • Sales is a personal conversation and is usually based in connecting what clients want to hear to your best work. To the extent clients don’t value your best work you will need marketing to influence their perspective.
  • Marketing is again most effective when it is personal, connects to needs and emotions and reinforces what you do well in the minds of clients. It sets up a sales conversation. When Sales and Marketing work in concert in this way, growth accelerates.
  • Smug Silence: If you do something well, you aren’t sharing it and nobody wants and needs it, then you can be silent in your smugness. You are the best in the world at it, but it is of value only to you.

Putting it into Practice

Before you share your next post ask yourself the following questions;

  • What is my purpose in working out loud?
  • Who is my audience?
  • What do they want to hear?
  • What do they need to hear?
  • How do I share what I do best to enable learning and collaboration?

These simple questions are my steps to avoid the dangers of bragging, chatter and thought leadership. What works for you in your practice of working out loud?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s