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Thought Leader

Mark Mzyk | May 1, 2013

The term thought leader is being thrown around a lot lately, mostly in a derisive way, since it is over used. The Wikipedia definition, copied wholesale here, is this:

Thought leader is management terminology for a person or an entity that is recognized by peers for having progressive and innovative ideas. Typically thought leaders have proven themselves in the business, academic or political sphere through successful implementation of their ideas. Thought leaders often publish articles and blog posts on trends and topics influencing an industry or directed internal to an organization. Through effective communication and clarity of purpose, they effect change and are considered exemplary leaders.

That works as a definition, but I think it misses a crucial component of a thought leader. My definition would be this:

A thought leader is someone who takes disparate ideas and expresses them as a cogent whole.¬†This doesn’t mean they necessarily have original ideas (although they often do), just that they are good at expressing and merging ideas into something new and useful.

Another part of being a thought leader is that you have to be visible. If no one knows of your ideas, then by definition you can’t be a thought leader.

You also can’t be a thought leader by calling yourself one. It’s a term bestowed on you by others. It should never show up on a business card.