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Tarzan Kay


May 27, 2022

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how to tell a cult leader from a thought leader

There’s this guy Parry who I follow on LinkedIn. His industry-disrupting 30-word diatribes about PR are crisp AF.

I save his posts to use later as inspo for my emails. 

My comments on his posts are the comments of a googly-eyed, adoring fan. He’s a great writer. If he ever writes a book, I’ll pre-order it.

Except there’s this one headshake-inducing thing he does. Every post ends with the same line:

This is the way. 👊

Nah, dude. 

That is not the way, it’s one way. 

As an ex-cult member, I’m extra cautious when I see language like this. Every time he uses this phrase, Parry is walking that fine line between thought leader and cult leader.

The expression ‘this is the way’ is, in effect, a thought-terminating cliché.

A thought-terminating cliché is a catchy phrase that signals: this conversation is now over. Its purpose isn’t to invite opinions and ideas, it’s to encourage compliance while stymying rational debate. 

Examples include:

It is what it is

Truth is a construct

You gotta do what you gotta do

Trust the plan (a Q-anon favorite)

Amanda Montell calls them “semantic stop signs” in her book Cultish. If truth is a construct, why bother arguing?

Once you know what to look for, you’ll start seeing thought-terminating clichés spill out of people’s mouths all the time on the internet. It’s that moment when a new entrepreneur gets diagnosed with “mindset issues” by their mentors when they don’t want to use a particular marketing tactic, thus ending any meaningful conversation. 

We need to invite disagreement among our people, at least as enthusiastically as we work to get consensus. 

A cult leader says “this is the way.”

But a true leader invites disagreement. A true leader says “here is my idea” and then listens while you poke holes in their argument. A true leader doesn’t shrink away from dissent, they invite it over for tea, because they know that it takes many perspectives to see the full picture. 

I’m tempted to end this email with THIS IS THE WAY 👊because it feels so true and real to me. 

However, maybe Parry is just being Parry. 

Maybe he engages his team in stimulating debate every Friday over cocktails and listens while they passionately argue over the rightness of whatever zinger he has most recently posted on LinkedIn. Maybe he’s not an aspiring cult leader. 

Feel free to disagree with me. 

That is literally the whole point.



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Here’s your reminder about the next Email Workshop! It’s all about Story-Driven emails. It happens on Tuesday and we’ll cover:

  • How to find the stories your subscribers want to hear
  • When and how to segue into a CTA that is relevant to your readers
  • Where to find good hooks and story ideas for your emails

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