The Secret Ingredient to Becoming a Thought Leader

Updated to Business on December 30, 2022.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

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.