We come across many surveys in our work, especially on the Internet. One of my most recent favorites posed the following question, “Is your firm, or one or more of its professionals, a recognized thought leader?”

Almost two-thirds (66 percent) answered “Yes, we’re thought leaders.” No one answered, “We’re thought followers,” but the other 34 percent checked the answer “What’s thought leadership?”

Okay, it’s not the greatest survey question in the world. and it also shows the inherent problem in many surveys. The results are often predestined by the question posed, the answers given, and the image the respondents want to portray.

But the more I thought about the question, the more I liked it and the term “thought follower.” I believe for the most part, firms and their professionals are thought followers, not thought leaders, although it isn’t easy to admit it.

There is nothing wrong with being a thought follower. In fact, there is something very right about it. I believe that is why you are seeing the remarkable success of firm associations. Firms are often following the leads of other member firms’ leads with regard to business development, practice management, technology, etc. Then there are the firms who are listening and following the advice of consultants, individuals who have seen a great number of firms implement the same change, and who act as a guide to the firm that he or she is advising. Firms also rely on software vendors to help them determine the best way to go paperless, or on an outside company to reengineer it audit processes and procedures.

Despite the survey results, there are a plethora of thought followers out there, and it explains why all of a sudden there are so many firms being identified as “Best Places to Work.” I doubt if all those firms’ managing partners or firm marketers came up with the idea on their own. Firms probably saw the advantage that such recognition gives in attracting staff. Most likely they did so because they became aware of another firm or business that was named a “Best Place to Work,” and was successfully capitalizing on it. They might have even have read Jeff Stimpson’s article on the subject in the February 2007 issue of Practical Accountant entitled, “Capitalizing on 'Best Place to Work' Recognition.”

And how did Practical Accountant come up with the idea? We can proudly say by applying some good old “thought following.” We noticed a number of firms were publicizing being named a “Best Place to Work” in their recruitment efforts and on their Web sites. 

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