Thought leaders are characterised by thinking differently about important issues. Martin Luther King was a thought leader – his vision of a society where whites and blacks could live together changed the rules of thinking and behaviour in American society. The British nurse Florence Nightingale was a thought leader. She changed the 19th-century philosophy in health care, amongst others through the promotion of the importance of hygiene. Steve Jobs is hailed as a thought leader. He changed the way we look at the use of computer technology. These three persons contributed to this world with their vision and indeed, were eventually seen as thought leaders. But what is thought leadership in an organisational context? Why should organisations want to promote thought leadership? And how do you build this? How many thought leaders do you know personally?
Since we can’t all be thought leaders, you need to make sure this will not be another overrated phrase used in today’s media. We should keep some things off the radar and only come out with those when they really have a meaning. Today I decided to check my LinkedIn connections. Forty people have the phrase “thought leader” in their profile. Some even have it with their specialties. You’ve got to love that. Please explain to me how someone is an account manager, but on the side a thought leader as well. What qualifies you as a thought leader, if you have been selling software for the past ten years? I then decided to look up some people I greatly admire, and whom I consider qualified to be a thought leader. It turns out that they hardly use this phrase, and each of them contributed greatly to the world of business today. So should you come up with it yourself or should you wait until people start calling you a thought leader?
In the space of Influencer Relations there are many people who think they have it all figured out, but I guess it is not so different in other sectors. I just want to make people aware of the fact that putting something on your resume, doesn’t automatically make it true. This works both ways of course. Why do people have such an issue with acknowledging their peers? Does that make you a lesser person in that field? I doubt it. I really think it shows that you are open for other people to be recognised for their efforts. But at the very least let us all agree that the phrase “thought leader” is not the new “Manager” or “Consultant”. That would do so many great people injustice.