Over the time that I have worked at Communiqué, the term “thought leader” has popped up frequently. In fact, it’s kind of been everywhere. Thought leaders are mentioned in articles, blog posts are written about the importance of developing thought leadership, and thought leaders are sought out for speaking opportunities.
At first, I didn’t give the term much thought because, in context, I assumed it was simply a vague title referring to an expert in a particular industry. However, as I saw it more and more, questions began to nag at me. If a thought leader is just an expert, why wouldn’t he or she be referred to as such? Is there a difference between thought leaders and experts? If they are different, what exactly is the importance of thought leadership? And is everyone else as confused by this term as I am? In short, I decided to do some digging.
For those of you who, like me, may be a little fuzzy on the details of thought leaders and thought leadership, an overarching definition is a good place to start. While there are a number of ways to explain what a thought leader is, during my research I found a blog post that described it in a way that resonated well with me:
“Welcome to the NEW thought leader: passionate, smart, professional subject matter experts who have advanced the conversation around their particular areas of interest and expertise. But New Thought Leaders are more than experts – they’re genuine authorities. They are people the media come to for quotes; they bob up often as interview guests on podcasts; publishers approach them to write books; people come to hear them speak!”
This definition makes two things very clear: 1) Experts and thought leaders are linked, but are not the same thing; and 2) the term’s current popularity stems from the fact that it has been recently redefined. It is a classic syllogism (e.g., all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares) in that all thought leaders are experts, but not all experts are thought leaders. What differentiates the two is how active the person is in society’s current social space, which is the driver behind the redefinition. Someone could be the leading expert in their field, and not be a thought leader simply because no one knows about what they are doing. Thought leaders, on the other hand, are active participants on social media and are constantly engaged in their industry’s dialogue. Society both recognizes them and regards them as a viable, important source of information.
This brings me to the importance of thought leadership. Without thought leaders or thought leadership, the amount of valuable information available would be diminished, as would the push for innovation. Thought leaders have big ideas and can put experts and other individuals on the right path toward making those ideas a reality, meaning thought leaders truly need to be leaders – leaders that are engaged and consistently sharing their ideas with the broader public. This could include contributing content to publications, being interviewed for article quotes, speaking at major industry events, or actively using social media to keep others updated on industry trends. Whatever the medium, a thought leader’s focus is on using a platform to help people better understand their industry and push the boundaries of what is currently known.Tags: thought leadership