Influencer. Leader. In 2021 these two words have evolved to become synonymous in the eyes of the majority of the population, but where do their similarities end? Are all Influencers leaders, or are all leaders Influencers? It depends on whom you ask. In terms of reach and impact, every Influencer is innately a leader of their field and in turn, every leader innately holds influence in their industry. You cannot be one without being the other, which is how we have arrived at our present moment in time— the age of influence as power.

As power becomes easier and easier to come by, at a time where playing your social media cards right can garner you a mass following overnight, the lines between Influencer and leader are growing increasingly blurred.

The impact of influencer campaigns increased by 57% from 2019 to 2020 and Influencers and celebrities are seeing record-breaking amounts of engagement. Billie Eilish recently received more than 22 million likes on a single Instagram post. That’s 22 million impressionable fans, eager to interact and listening to what she has to say. But that post was about her dying her hair. Imagine if she talked about issues like voting? Or vaccination? That’s 22 million millennials and Gen Z individuals listening intently to the celebrity’s view on potentially serious issues.

In 2018, Taylor Swift posted on Instagram encouraging her fans to register to vote. 65,000 of her followers went to and registered. That’s impactful leadership.

Influencers have evolved to become educated experts in their craft, and leaders have begun promoting their own companies and brands. By combining the power of thought leadership with social influence, a new type of industry power player has emerged: the leadership Influencer.


To really distinguish between Influencers and leaders we need to look at their goals and responsibilities. The primary goal of the typical Influencer is to promote a lifestyle, product, or brand to their readily engaged audience and in return receive monetary compensation for their promotion. These are straightforward, quantifiable goals that all Influencers work towards regardless of the size of their following.

On the other hand, the goal of thought leaders is to generate industry progress through content creation and receive compensation in the form of respect and a positive reputation in their field.

Both want engagement and to have their message resonate with their audience. The key difference here is that the goals of a thought leader are harder to quantify. You can’t put a price tag on a thought, not until you have amassed a following at least.


The responsibilities of Influencers and leaders are more similar than their goals. Both parties hold the same responsibilities as anyone with a platform and audience— the responsibility to maintain a strong moral code and to be aware of the power their words have on their audience.

As a person with power— the backbone of that power lies in trust. And the trust between leader and follower is a delicate balance. Think of all the people you willingly trust. Your grandmother, your partner, your professional support system. We trust all of these people willingly because of our deep relationships with them, and because we are all on the same level in terms of our relationship to one another. When we add a hierarchy to our relationships, suddenly trust becomes a little more difficult to dole out. In the same way that we would stop trusting our medical doctor if they were revealed to have an uninformed decision regarding our healthcare, we would stop trusting our favorite leadership influencers if they were revealed to have poor ethics.

As a leadership Influencer, you are in the position of balancing the world of a thought leader with the world of an Influencer, while upholding the responsibility of both. You are the expert in your field and the authority on industry trends. You need to be prepared to stand behind your decisions and your image. In a world where trends move at the speed of the internet, it is your job as a leadership Influencer to promote inclusive, innovative ideas that drive success and look to the future, without getting stuck in the mindframe of the past.


Leadership Influencers are successful in their own right. Those who have a clear mission and strong values, however, are highly sought after by top brands. Brands value “responsible leaders” more than self-serving leaders and are looking for this type of individual when evaluating longer-term brand partnerships or ambassadorships.

A brand’s point of view in evaluating Influencers is important and brands value (read: will pay more) for authentic, thoughtful connections with their audience. Why? A brand’s ultimate goal is to speak to their audience and provide the best possible experience for their customers or potential customers. A thoughtful, well-respected and well-known Influencer has the potential to complement their message and reinforce the brand mission, all coming from a trusted source.

The future of Influencer marketing is creating genuine, thoughtful connections and Influencers being true to themselves— all elements of leaders.


Before you can become a leadership Influencer, chances are you are starting out as either an Influencer or a leader in your field. The transition between being an Influencer and a thought leader is fairly straightforward. First, decide what you plan to accomplish with your platform.

We talked a little bit earlier about the goals and responsibilities of Influencers and leaders, once you have a clear understanding of these aspects of the lifestyle you can begin mapping out how your platform will directly correlate with accomplishing your personal and professional goals.

For your message to spread far and wide and resonate with your audience, generating shares, likes, and comments, you need to think about how your Influencer goals and personal goals align. Tailor your image and voice to your ethos, maintaining your persona while optimizing for engagement. Once you have a handle on your personal voice, then you can grow into a true leadership influencer.

  • Define your personal voice
  • Empower your audience with information, facts, and reliable sources
  • Create meaningful interactions with your followers
  • Publish content with defined goals in mind
  • Use your platform wisely and carefully consider all partnerships and brand engagements

To expand on developing a strategy a bit more, let’s take a look at one of the most powerful leadership influencers, Alexis Ohanian. The power of a leadership Influencer comes from their name recognition and versatility. We all recognize the name “Alexis Ohanian” when we hear it, but we all may know him for different reasons. Some of us may know him as the co-founder of Reddit. Others may know him as the man Forbes declared “Mayor of the internet”. Some may know him as Serena Williams’ husband, and others due to his outspoken internet activism. Regardless of how you primarily know him, we are all aware of Alexis Ohanian and his work as a leadership Influencer.

What makes a leadership influencer like Ohanian such a perfect example is his ability to be infinitely adaptable. Since he arrived in the public eye, he has been a thought leader. When he transitioned into an Influencer it was out of necessity, a natural growth of his personal brand. There is nothing forced or insincere about the way he has navigated his following, and he is a primary example of a person using their power for the greater good.

For the gold standard of leadership influence, we should be training our attention on those who have done the work, and deserve their platform. After all, it takes courage to use your voice in front of a crowd. As people with power, it is our responsibility to wield it gracefully and with intention. Otherwise, what is all this power for? Book some time with me, let’s chat.

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