If you’re like me, there comes a time in every week that the normal workload feels like a grind. Maybe one week, you’re balancing personal challenges with your work schedule. Maybe another, you’re taking on a new set of professional responsibilities or navigating a new job. In any case, no matter what problems or passion projects you’re juggling right now, looking to others for inspiration may be just the way to shake off the stress. For that, we recommend looking to one group of people, if you haven’t already: thought leaders.
In the past, we’ve covered thought leaders on the SpeakerFlow blog in their most basic sense. In short, we’ve covered what they are, what they do, and why you may (or may not) want to become one yourself. But one thing we haven’t done is share a few of our favorite thought leaders, the ones that inspire us every day.
With that in mind, the following guide is a simple list of twelve thought leaders admired among members of the SpeakerFlow squad. As you work through this week – and the joys and hardships that come along with it – we hope you find as much insight from these individuals as we have over the last several years in business.
As always, if there are any thought leaders we left out, let us know in the comments! We’re all about sharing positivity and high-quality information. So, the more inspirational leaders, thinkers, and educators we can highlight, the better. 🙌
First in our thought leaders list is Amanda Nguyen. A Harvard graduate Nguyen is the founder of Rise, an advocacy organization that provides global support for survivors of sexual violence. A survivor herself, she originally gained national attention when, in 2019, she highlighted the broken mechanism through which rape cases in her home state, Massachusetts, are processed and unanimously passed the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights.
In recognition of these achievements and her similar, ongoing work, she’s the recipient of a number of awards. These include the titles of Heinz Laureate, Nelson Mandela Changemaker, Forbes 30 Under 30, Foreign Policy 100, Time 100 Next, Frederick Douglass 100, and Marie Claire Young Woman of the Year. Nguyen has also served at NASA and as a member of the State Department. Today, as the full-time CEO of Rise, she continues to campaign for legislative protection of sexual assault survivors.
“Access to justice is a necessary prerequisite to true peace.”
– Amanda Nguyen
2. Brené Brown
Next of our favorite thought leaders is Brené Brown. Born and raised in Texas, Brown is a professor at the University of Houston and The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business. In total, she’s spent more than 20 years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. But, despite her experience, Brown first found fame when she delivered her now-viral TEDxHouston Talk in 2010, “The Power of Vulnerability.” With this talk and her subsequent Netflix special, “The Call to Courage,” she shared her conclusion from her continuing research, namely that vulnerability is vital for authentic human connection and personal growth.
In recent years, Brown has continued to share her message of “courage over comfort,” both in print and digital media. The author of five New York Times bestsellers, Brown’s books include Braving the Wilderness, Rising Strong, Daring Greatly, and The Gifts of Imperfection. Her most recent book, Dare To Lead, launched in 2018 and ranked #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers list, Publishers Weekly, and The Wall Street Journal. She’s also the host of podcasts Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead.
“Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into ‘those who offer help’ and ‘those who need help.’ The truth is that we are both.”
– Brené Brown
3. Daniel Pink
Number three of in our thought leaders list is Daniel Pink. A Northwestern University and Yale Law School graduate, Pink spent the early days of his professional career in government, serving from as chief speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore from 1995-1997. After leaving politics, he then dove into entrepreneurship as host and producer of “Crowd Control.” He also became a regular contributor on NPR, PBS, ABC, CNN, and a variety of other U.S. networks.
Today, Pink is best known for his work describing the intersection of business, creativity, and human behavior. An award-winning author, he explains these patterns in several books, such as When, To Sell Is Human, Drive, and A Whole New Mind. He’s also an occasional columnist for a number of renowned publications including The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, The New Republic, and Slate. Each of these content sources – from his books to his columns to his 2009 TED Talk – focuses on personal transformation and growth, personal and professional.
“Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and our classrooms, we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get you through the day, but the latter will get you through the night.”
– Daniel Pink
The fourth of our favorite thought leaders is Donald, or Don, Miller. Miller is a marketer, author, and keynote speaker best known for his work as the CEO of StoryBrand. Founded in 2014, his goal – through StoryBrand – was to outline a method with which business owners could clearly communicate their value and connect with customers through their brand messaging. In his words, “If customers are confused about what you offer, they’ll look past you for somebody who can say it clearly. Once you clarify your message, your company will begin to grow. Companies that clarify their messaging win in the marketplace.”
In sharing this idea, Miller’s written three best-selling books including Blue Like Jazz, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years, and Scary Close. He also served on The Presidential Task Force for Fatherhood during the Obama administration. However, today, his work primarily focuses on speaking and helping companies around the world use storytelling to engage new customers.
“When we position our customer as the hero and ourselves as the guide, we will be recognized as a trusted resource to help them overcome their challenges. Positioning the customer as the hero in the story is more than just good manners; it’s also good business.”
– Donald Miller
Next – and arguably one of the best known thought leaders on this list – is Eckhart Tolle. If you haven’t heard of him, Tolle is an international speaker and author on the topic of spirituality. Born in Germany, he’s received global recognition for his teachings about how to find inner peace. As he describes it, his educational materials focus on the “power of Presence, the awakened state of consciousness, which transcends ego and discursive thinking.”
Over the span of his decades-long career, Tolle’s shared these teachings through seven bestselling books including “A New Earth: Awakening To Your Life’s Purpose” and “The Power of Now: A Guide To Spiritual Enlightenment.” In doing so, he’s been acknowledged in the media by everyone from Oprah to the Dalai Lama with The New York Times describing him as “the most popular spiritual author in the United States” and the Watkins Review calling him “the most spiritually influential person in the world.”
“Give up defining yourself – to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life. And don’t be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it’s their problem. Whenever you interact with people, don’t be there primarily as a function or a role, but as the field of conscious Presence. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.”
– Eckhart Tolle
Next of our team’s favorite thought leaders is Gary Vaynerchuck. Otherwise known as “GaryVee,” Vaynerchuck made a name for himself, initially, when he transitioned his family’s local liquor store into an online alcoholic beverage retailer, rebranded as Wine Library. At the time, it was one of the first ecommerce platforms of its kind. Under Vaynerchuk’s ownership, it grew to a more than $60 million business. And, in conjunction with his YouTube show, WineLibraryTV, it formed the foundation of his now-famous public persona.
These days, Vaynerchuck acts primarily as the Chairman of VaynerX and the CEO of VaynerMedia in additon to speaking. He’s also the Co-Founder of VaynerSports, Resy, and Empathy Wines; the host of his podcast, “The GaryVee Audio Experience;” and a five-time bestselling author. Each of these platforms centers on Vaynerchuck’s passion for entrepreneurial innovation and mindfulness for the latest market trends and consumer behavior.
“Not worrying about what people think frees you to do things, and doing things allows you to win or learn from your loss—which means you win either way. Hear me now: you are better off being wrong ten times and being right three than you are if you try only three times and always get it right.”
– Gary Vaynerchuk
7. Jay Shetty
Number seven in our list of thought leaders is speaker, podcaster, and coach Jay Shetty. Raised in London, Shetty originally worked in the corporate world before becoming a Vedic monk at the age of 21. For three years, he split his time between work and the monk lifestyle before eventually committing to the latter. In his words, “I chose the self-growth and service-focused life of being a monk…I woke up at 4 am, meditated for 4-8 hours, studied timeless wisdom and served others in nearby communities. But I couldn’t stay there forever… When I left, I applied what I learned in the real world.”
A proponent of what he calls the “Monk Mindset,” today, Shetty is an award-winning content creator and the CEO of Icon Media. He’s also the author of Think Like A Monk and the host of the viral podcast, “On Purpose.” For his efforts in both of these channels, Shetty was named to 2017’s Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe list and the National Geographic Chasing Genius Council, both of which highlighted his ongoing support of mental health, physical and mental wellness, and building relationships.
“The thing about limitations is that they are only true as long as you believe in them. So, instead of believing in your limitations, start believing in yourself.”
– Jay Shetty
Eighth in our thought leaders list is electrical engineer and biotechnology expert Kimberly Bryant. A graduate of Vanderbilt University, Bryant spent the first 25 years of her career in a variety of technical roles for Fortune 100 companies including Genentech, Merck, and Pfizer. As an African American woman in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field, she experienced first-hand the lack diversity in roles similar to hers. She also recognized the absence of outreach to people – especially young women – of color in order to build diversity in STEM in the first place.
In response, in 2011, Bryant founded Black Girls Code, an organization that “builds pathways for young women of color to embrace the current tech marketplace as builders and creators by introducing them to skills in computer programming and technology.” In her words, her goal was to “create a better, more ideal, and perhaps easier pathway for my daughter and girls like her” interested in STEM career opportunities. Today, through speaking, govermental collaboration, and other outreach, Bryant continues to grow Black Girls Code and further this mission.
“You cannot possibly be reaching the needs of your consumers when the makeup of your company is not reflective of the community you serve.”
– Kimberly Bryant
The ninth of our favorite thought leaders is Malcom Gladwell. A Canadian journalist and writer, Gladwell has written for a number of periodicals over the course of his career including as a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1996. In recent years, however, Gladwell’s been best known for his many bestselling books. A few of the most recognized of these include The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, and Outliers: The Story of Success.
Gladwell is also the the co-founder of Pushkin Industries, an audio content company responsible for His podcasts, “Revisionist History” and “Broken Record.” Because of his unique perspectives regarding popular culture and human behavior, shared through each of these sources, he’s been included in the TIME 100 Most Influential People list. He’s also received American Sociological Association’s first Award for Excellence in the Reporting of Social Issues as well as honorary degrees from the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto.
“Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.”
– Malcolm Gladwell
10. Marie Forleo
Next of our team’s favorite thought leaders is Marie Forleo. Born in New Jersey, Forleo started her professional life as what she calls a “multipassionate entrepreneur”. Rather than take the standard 9-5 role, she worked a variety of jobs including bartending, waiting tables, even choreographing hip hop routines for MTV. Eventually, in 2010, Forleo launched into full-time entrepreneurship, founding Marie Forleo International and B-School, an online business program for small businesses around the world.
Recently, Forleo’s been recognized for her free and paid content that bridges entrepreneurship with standard professional and personal practices. To hear her tell it, “I believe that whether you run your own business or not, a creative and entrepreneurial approach is critical to fully blossom in the modern world and to experience the happiness and fulfillment you deserve.” In sharing this message, she’s authored a book, Everything Is Figureoutable. She also leads a YouTube web series, MarieTV, and hosts “The Marie Forleo Podcast.”
“Every pro starts off as an amateur. There’s not one top artist, athlete, writer, scientist, architect, entrepreneur, programmer, musician, or potter who enters the field at the top of her game. To begin anything new or learn anything new means you will be a neophyte. You must go from outsider to insider. Respect that. Embrace it. Be willing to suck.”
– Marie Forleo
11. Neil Patel
Eleventh in our thought leaders list is entrepreneur and marketing guru Neil Patel. Originally born in London, Patel’s family moved to California when he was a child. As they joined an existing family business, he attributes this to his taste for entrepreneurship, saying it’s “in his blood”. Today, that passion for business has made him one of the most successful marketers of the digital age. In fact, his marketing blog alone generates over 4 million visitors per month.
Additionally, Patel has made a name for himself has “the SEO guy,” saying “SEO is a race, not a sprint.” Over the years, his strategies and tools to implement this message have earned him listings in Forbes’ Top 10 Marketers list and Entrepreneur Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Brilliant Companies. Plus, as the founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, and KISSmetrics, he’s also provided marketing strategy for companies as large as Amazon, Microsoft, Airbnb, and Google and continues to provide free resources (such as Ubersuggest) to help small businesses tackle search engine optimization and improve their marketing efforts.
“Don’t make excuses. Make improvements.”
– Neil Patel
12. Seth Godin
The twelfth and final entry in our list of thought leaders is Seth Godin. A self-described “serial entrepreneur,” Godin originally studied computer science and philosophy at Tufts University before going on to receive his MBA from Stanford Business School. In the more than thirty years since then, he’s worked primarily as a writer, teaching marketing through a variety of platforms. In total, these channels include a globally followed blog, a podcast (“Akimbo”), and more than 20 bestselling books. The most recent of his books, This Is Marketing, was an almost immediate bestseller in more than 20 countries!
In addition to these achievements, Godin’s the founder of Squidoo, Yoyodyne (which sold to Yahoo! in 1998), Akimbo, and altMBA. He’s also one of only three inductees into both the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame and the Marketing Hall of Fame.
“People don’t believe what you tell them. They rarely believe what you show them...They always believe what they tell themselves.”
– Seth Godin