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 Thought Leaders in Religion

A service of InterfaithCalendar.org 

From the communications industry and one of its thought leaders, Keith Lubner of Channel Consulting Corp, come ideas that can assist religious thought leaders. The following grows out of Lubner’s words in the March 2010 Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

Religion is made up of ideas and thoughts that shape the future of persons and societies. It is natural that leaders in any religion are responsible for the presentation and activation of the central ideas of the particular religion of their experience. The daily maintenance of real life religious communities tends to dominate the time of the leaders and distract from the disciplines of being a thought leader. Here are the issues for this article.

Gather Knowledge in your field.
Share Ideas with people.
Be open to inquiries.
Expect to be rewarded.
Stake out your unique field of expertise.

1. Gather knowledge in your field. The horizon of individual knowledge is ever expanding. I like the idea of bluntly investing time in the acquisition of new information. Development of a hunger for knowledge is a habit that can be adopted at any point in life.  The investment of time is a key factor for religious leaders. We are tempted to adopt a fortress mentality constructed from what we have been taught and gathered. As societies change new information is exposed through innovation and experimentation. The effective religious thought leader pays attention to new information in his/her field of expertise. This takes development of a taste for the unfamiliar and even threatening ideas that can trigger anxiety and discomfort. The broad range of religious information has few limits. In a word, pay attention.

 2. Share ideas with people.  Self confidence necessary to present ideas is assumed in religious leaders.  Willingness to freely give away knowledge is another matter. When that information treads on the assumed earlier learned truths of a religious community a leader needs another kind of self confidence. We are talking here about a thought leader with the confidence that she/he can present ideas better than others in the field. That takes shaping of skills both of thought and presentation. The driving force here is giving away thoughts freely at every opportunity along with the skills to know the right time and place.

3. Be open to inquiries.  When one gives away information freely, an environment for sharing is opened. In such a climate, the thought leader faces a central challenge: Can I actually listen to what these people are saying?  Fleeing to the comfort of one’s familiar ground is the immediate response for most leaders.  It takes discipline, skill training, and fortitude to develop listening skills that come through as credible to the inquirer.  This point is related to number one above – Gather knowledge in your field. When people present information that is at variance with the position of the thought leader a critical moment in the process has arrived. If the leader actually listens to the inquirer, a complex transaction takes place that is unique in communication. It is as if time stops for a moment and thoughts mingle creating a new mix of ideas. Out of that event both the thought leader and the inquirer are moved forward.

 4. Expect to be rewarded.  In the business context this means a money reward that is based on the value added of the transaction. Higher fees go with expert skills. In religious leadership the thought leader has to deal with a different value system. If the rewards include a sense of doing the right thing, or generating the respect of peers, or gaining wider personal recognition are of highest priority, then honesty about what it is that a person must have is necessary. Without appropriate rewards a thought leader in religion will fade and lose energy to continue. This is a sticking point for religious leaders in a society where economic reward is valued far above all other factors. If money is primary, then fees need to reflect that reality. Even if money is not primary, it needs to be integrated into the reward system for a religious thought leader.

 5. Stake out your unique expertise.  “Don’t be afraid of calling yourself an expert” says Lubner. In the field of religious thought leadership it is necessary to be clear on what is meant by the term “expert”.  As a thought leader a person asks, “What am I really good at doing?” What is the evidence that a person is in touch with reality on this claim of expertise? However one can gather this information, it has to be done in order to say anything that will make a difference.  The opinions of other trusted people is useful and energy demanding. Here again, a thought leader will invest time and effort to get a clear view of unique expertise that sets a person apart from others in the field.  Once there is some initial clarity then comes the time to write articles, take on speaking engagements, gathering small group conversations to present ideas, and use of the Internet and whatever other social formats are familiar.

Chances are that your expertise will gain attention if your claims are well grounded. As this happens, the power of “Gather knowledge in your field” once again takes over and the process continues as a dynamic growing reality. Persistence in the process is up to the individual person.

 As a Christian I see remarkable opportunities in taking on Thought Leader Development as a priority for the various denominations and groups of the global Christian community. As a Christian who honors other world religion traditions I sense that the relationship between religions will become more peaceful as leaders become increasingly effective in Thought Leadership as the five insights of this article are taken seriously. World religions and leaders have no choice but to deal with each other on this beautiful globe suspended in cosmic space. We can always do better. 

Delton Krueger, Elder
Methodist Order of the Christian religion  

Minnesota, USA
dkrueger@visi.com

March 14, 2010 Revised March 25, 2010

 This article grows out of an article by Keith Lubner in the March 2010 Redmond Channel Partner magazine. His words,  addressed to communications people in growing companies, strikes me as appropriate for thought leaders in the field of religion.