I was invited to a thinking ‘salon’, as it was described, to play intellectual ping pong with ten very impressive people – among them a leadership coach, a brand fixer, an former CEO of a catalog company, a social (csr) entrepreneur, an ex-naval officer now in academia, a sharp accountant and fellow marketers.    I was participating on my tippy toes – reaching up to discuss philosophically and intelligently on what is thought leadership and what makes it so.

Sound boring?  Not at all.  In fact, it gave two hours to dissect an overused term whose deliverable (thought leadership) is critical to business and everyday life.  The analysis of which leaves me clearer on what is required of thought leaders.

[Incidentily, I was invited by Rick Wolfe of Poststone.  I learned long ago never to turn down anything Rick organizes; he is a master at facilitation and marketing savant well known in marketing circles.]

I started my conversation by admitting that I used to own the title “subject matter expert” [in e-marketing, branding, strategy at IBM] with thought leadership being among the deliverables that I had to produce.  I loved that title until I had kids and learned how much there was to learn about life in general and ever since I’ve been utterly convinced that noone owns an ‘expert’ title.   I cringe now when I hear the s.m.e.  title.

More importantly, I questioned ‘thought leadership’ since

a) in this age of social wisdom, I see less individual thought leadership and more collective thought leaders and

b) in our interconnected society, I often think I have an original idea and if I google it, I find that it is not original at all.

As it turns out, the group collectively agreed that being original or first to market with an idea does not necessarily constitute thought leadership.   That thought leadership needs to also result in impact.  That the leadership of the thought includes relevancy, application, resources, action and impact.  There was also talk that thought leadership is a special thing and a special person who synthesizes in a special way.   I added that thought leadership can be unintentional – an idea or meme that catches like wild fire.

I have a number of books to follow up on – as always seems the case when I go to these intellectual debates.  They are  “Brief History of Nearly Everything”, “The Gift”, “The Singularity is Near” and probably something on Obama would be good too.

4 thoughts on “Defining thought leadership and what makes it so.

    1. Bravo – nice comment. And with a laugh, I can definitely see and concur with the irony of calling ‘thought leadership’ an overused term now that I’m in social media!

      My ping pong comment was not about thought leadership per se, it was more about devoting two hours to a higher level debate (ping ponging of ideas) and discussion which I don’t always have the luxury to do.

      And I appreciate your p.o.v. I will be checking out your framework. Thanks for the comment!

  1. Laurie,

    I really liked how you summarized your experience at the meeting in your post. I believe that thought leadership (marketing) is in a stage of relative infancy, compared to other marketing strategies, tools and concepts, and that discussions like the one you had with your colleagues will become more frequent as the concept evolves.

    I’ve subscribed to your blog and look forward to reading more great stuff!


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