What is thought leadership?

By on March 31, 2014

Thought leadership is a term thrown around with seemingly careless abandon by companies that want to sound like leaders in their sector, but what does it actually mean?

The irony of course being that when everyone is claiming to be a thought leader, no one is. However, as with all things that matter, it is actions rather than words that show who the true thought leaders really are.

In essence, thought leaders are the people whose creative genius saves the day by winning new accounts with original ideas and turning around marketing disasters when it seems like they have run out of options.

It is the magical inventiveness that puts a new idea into the minds of others, which business-as-usual supposedly craves. It is an accolade for academics, a badge of honour for executives, and a major selling point for publishers.

The badge is pinned on after people have adopted the idea, not before, making it prey to the ex post facto dynamics of glorification, spin, and adulation. It is an offshoot of celebrity culture, where people seek glamour rather than the quieter virtues of ideas worth having.

Aristotle was perhaps the ultimate thought leader, and many modern imitators crudely recycle his ideas and those of others who have been quickly forgotten.

Leadership is the key word here. It is a leader’s job to try to see what others don’t; to use smart methods for finding new insights, and disseminate them. Summed up, a thought leader is an individual or organisation that is revered for their knowledge and ideas, and whose expertise is often sought after.

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