What is a Thought Leader?

I read a nice blog post today about what it is to be a thought leader by Rayanne Thorn that you should read. She says, “We hear about thought leaders, we refer to them, we listen to them, we engage with them, we quote them, we ask them to speak at conferences and we often disagree with them. The purpose of a thought leader may be just that — to inspire thought, to drive discussion, and controversy.” I agree that that is one purpose of a thought leader, a very important purpose. But the post got me to thinking about someone would want to publish a book to help them be seen as a thought leader, and two points came to mind:

First, there’s a difference between an accidental thought leader and an intentional thought leader. The accidental thought leader is someone who’s goal wasn’t to become a thought leader, but rather to inspire thought, or to teach, or to fulfill a need to be important or any number of purposes other than to be a thought leader. Becoming a thought leader was an accident. They’re a thought leader because others have given them that label. They may not even like being called a thought leader (some folks think that being a thought leader and being someone who actually does work and gets things accomplished are mutually exclusive — not so, of course).
Thought Leadership Goals
The intentional thought leader is a person (or company) who decides they want to be perceived as a thought leader for a particular purpose. And that purpose is usually to get recognized in order to get business or for personal gain. It’s why they decide to publish a book. And although they have other, underlying goals like inspiring thought or educating an audience, those goals are really just stepping stones to reaching the ultimate goal of being a thought leader. That’s not to say that the stepping stone goals aren’t necessary and must be met before the ultimate goal is met. But if they were the only goals, the person wouldn’t care whether they were seen as a thought leader or got more business or a better paying job.

Second, I really appreciate the way Rayanne described our behavior with thought leaders. I think it’s one of the best descriptions of what it is about a thought leader that makes them truly a thought leader that I’ve seen — we hear them, we refer to them, we listen to them, we engage with them, we quote them, we ask them to speak. Whatever you do to try to be a thought leader, you’ll know you’ve succeeded when your audience acts like that.

P.S. Rayanne also had an earlier post where she asked what exactly would the job description of a thought leader look like? I like the question (and I’d like to hear what your answers might be), and I love her tongue-in-cheek answer — have a Doctorate in Thinkology (I want one of those).

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