The Art of Constructing A ‘Thought Leader’

‘Thought leader’ is a term that gets tossed around a lot these days, and for good reason. It sure sounds impressive, right? Being a ‘leader’ influences how people think and is definitely a powerful skill, but what does that mean exactly?

At the risk of sounding like a history teacher, the term ‘thought leader’ was created back in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman. As the editor of Strategy+Business magazine, he coined the phrase to define major business icons worthy of an interview. According to Kurtzman, a thought leader is a trusted source that pushes the boundaries within their industry and inspires those around them to do the same.

There’s no question being a thought leader is a great benefit to the person who takes on the moniker, but it also benefits those connected to the person. An industry thought leader elevates the thinking and abilities of those around them and can take the company they work for and the industry itself to the next level.

While everyone has the opportunity to become a thought leader within their industry, few will successfully attain the title. So, what does it take to be one? The following are descriptors all thought leaders possess.

Passionate – Thought leaders are passionate about what they do and the effect their work has on those around them. This group is changing the world and this requires them to evangelize about what they do, and with maximum enthusiasm.

Engaging – Communication is key and a respected thought leader will be one who can engage with everyone on the spectrum from peers (other thought leaders) to the everyman. If you can speak about your industry in a way anyone can understand, you’re on your way to becoming a leader.

Knowledgeable – At the risk of stating the obvious, a thought leader is widely perceived to be an authority in the industry he/she represents. This doesn’t necessarily mean a degree from an Ivy League school is required. Plenty of thought leaders (hello, Mark Zuckerburg) didn’t finish school, so let’s just say relevant experience counts.

Visionary – A thought leader is a person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like. Looking ahead while keeping the past in mind fosters creative thinking to take a product or service to the next level.

Inspirational – A thought leader causes others to want to do or create something that improves the way we live or work. Think of it this way, JJ Abrams’ admiration for George Lucas fueled his work with Star Trek Into Darkness, and will no doubt be a visible influence in the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII.

Many believe that thought leaders are born to be great, but some become great through experience and inspiration. In the words of Walt Disney, one of the world’s greatest thought leaders, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”