The Secret Ingredient to Becoming a Thought Leader

Updated to Business on December 30, 2022.

When I was in graduate school I worked summers as a framer – working in the summer heat, building houses.

Correction: I only lasted one summer – it was brutal.

One lesson I took away (other than don’t repeat at home what you hear on the job site) was the power of a well-build framework – get the structure right and everything flows nicely.

Good speeches also have a framework. You won’t likely lean across to your partner and say “Gee, Martha check out that framework!”, but it’s there.

Think of it as the backbone that holds the parts together. Frameworks also show up in  self-help books, most seminars, even the approaches to coaching and consulting.

In this post, I’m using the term framework to describe the theme that holds individual lessons. And models are individual lessons dressed up to stand on their own.

In my post about mental models I explained how a model is a construct used to deliver a lesson. Think of famous lessons/models like: sharpen the saw (Covey), the hedgehog effect (Collins) and creative tension (Fritz).

Why you need a Framework

Whether you teach lessons on leadership, how to parent better, or coach 13 year olds in soccer, a framework can be the glue that holds your lessons together.

Let’s look at 3 famous examples of frameworks:

The One Minute Manager

Some 34 years ago, Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson nailed it with a profoundly simple 3-part framework, called the One Minute Manager. It was basic enough for new leaders, but effective enough to be valued over time.

And they didn’t stop with the book – they were one of the first authors to create a simple, easy-to-remember, effective framework that could be translated into seminars, speeches, workbooks, videos and consulting.

Here’s their framework:

  • One minute goals
  • One minute praising
  • One minute reprimands

The 5 Love Languages

Gary Chapman Ph.D translated his discoveries as a pastor into his first book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate which has gone on to sell 10 million copies and be translated into 50 languages.

The heart of Chapman’s work is the 5 Love Languages framework (we enjoy all of these to some degree but usually speak one language more than the rest). If you’re curious you can take the free test (best if you take it with your partner).

Here’s his framework:

  • words of affirmation
  • quality time
  • receiving gifts
  • acts of service
  • physical touch

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The granddaddy of all frameworks, turned teaching empires, is, of course, the late Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

After 25 million sales worldwide, The 7 Habits inspired hundreds of books with numbers in their titles, from How to Toilet Train Your Cat in 7 Simple Steps Like Princess Peanut to 7 Proven Methods to Help You Screw Up Your Kids Deliberately and with Skill (I’m not making this up).

Here’s his framework:

  • Be proactive
  • Begin with the end in mind
  • Put first things first
  • Think win-win
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  • Synergize
  • Sharpen the saw

Think, Plan, Act

After dabbling in teaching creative thinking, time management, and how to build healthy habits I decided to create my own framework (as my Mom says: take your own medicine). Think, Plan, Act is the 3 part framework to my keynote of the same name (until I can think of something more clever).

The Think, Plan, Act framework is the structure for my keynotes and seminars, but I can also expand it into a book, video training, on-line courses and coaching. Each of the 3 parts is a model that I deliver using my SLAP format.

Building your framework

When I work with new speakers, I always recommend starting with who you’re trying to help and what you’re hoping to achieve. In my case, I want to help people be more effective with their time and energies.

Next, decide the lessons you want to share. Your lessons may not appear as models now, but it’ll be helpful to create a visual around each lesson so it can appear as a model. The easiest way to do this is with a memorable anchor story that expresses the value of the lesson.

For example, we all know Covey’s story about sharpening his saw before going to cut the wood—that’s an anchor story.

Are you ready to build your framework? If so, don’t worry about it being perfect (Covey experimented on his college students for years before publishing The 7 habits) – but do get started. The sooner you get audience feedback, the sooner you can perfect your framework and start bringing its value to others.