October 4, 2022

Demystifying Thought Leadership


The term Thought Leadership was first coined in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief for the magazine Strategy and Business. He described Thought Leaders as “those people who possess a distinctively original idea, a unique point of view, or an unprecedented insight into their industry.”

Today Thought Leader seems to be a term that is used too loosely. Many companies and individuals call themselves Thought Leaders but perhaps fall short of Kurtzman’s definition. The reality is that you don’t get to decide if you are a Thought Leader. Just like being good looking or funny …you don’t decide, others do.

Thought Leadership or Subject Matter Expert?

In my experience, many companies often think they already have Thought Leaders when in fact what they have is subject matter experts. While subject matter experts will have relevant and thorough knowledge, a Thought Leader continually develops their thinking. What’s more they proactively speak and write about their area of expertise. Thought Leaders are also active on social media sites (internal and external) sharing and curating content, and more importantly creating it. They educate their peers and clients, and they are constantly contributing to and leading conversations about specific topics.

Communicating Ideas

Another key aspect of Thought Leadership is the ability to express ideas in a way that makes sense to others. To do so, Thoughts Leaders are avid readers and consumers of knowledge. This is crucial when developing your body of knowledge and expressing ideas. It should also be noted that a Thought Leader does not express only one idea or an idea once. Matt Church, who is the founder of Thought Leaders Global, often says that “Thought Leadership is not thought follow-ship and it is not about I had a thought once-ship”.

But why should companies consider a Thought Leadership strategy? The single biggest reason companies should consider Thought Leadership is competitive advantage.

Competitive Advantage

Competitive advantage is no easy feat and the need to stand out in your market, as well enter new markets, has never been stronger. Selecting and positioning individuals as Thought Leaders, and by extension your company, affords a significant competitive advantage in the marketplace. You are no longer chasing sales as people are coming to you.

A Thought Leadership strategy is an approach many companies are including as part of their B2B markets. A joint study between Edelman and LinkedIn in 2021 showed that “B2B Thought Leadership, when done well, significantly influences brand perception and buying behaviours throughout the entire decision process”. The study also found that earning trust and credibility requires “strong Thought Leadership, especially if you are not an established market leader”.

Attract and Retain Talent

Another important reason is the attraction and retention of talent, especially considering the “The Great Resignation”. Talented people are looking for more than the expected good pay, recognition and promotion. They are even looking for more than flexibility and autonomy. Often what they really want is the opportunity for mastery: to have a professional purpose and to make a difference by having industry influence.

A well thought out and executed Thought Leadership strategy can simultaneously address the two challenges of attraction and retention, while also gaining competitive advantage.

Next Steps

If developing your Thought Leadership strategy is of interest to you then contact us to set up time to discuss your needs for 2023. You can also check out our only public workshop coming up in Melbourne on 12th and 13th December.