Okay, we hear the two words: THOUGHT LEADER everywhere nowadays….

When you think of the term thought leader, what comes to mind?

That “always-accurate” source Wikipedia defines thought leader as: “A thought leader is business jargon for an entity that is recognized for having innovative ideas.” On the surface that’s fairly accurate, but what does it take to be a thought leader?  For me, the foundation to be a thought leader is the ability to think critically. Nowadays, I look around and wonder if it’s a lost skill!

Critical thinkers begin the process from that place of ambiguity and question everything; think of it as a jigsaw puzzle without the final picture.

A favorite quote reminds me of the skills of critical thinking. Christopher Morley, (May 5, 1890 – March 28, 1957) an American journalist, novelist, essayist and poet, said; “Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity.”  For me, Mr. Morely has defined the first steps to critical thinking and the road to thought leadership.

Critical thinkers:

  • Look at issues, problems, challenges and even solutions with an open mind.
  • Find the root causes and find the secondary issues and the secondary gains; most often the problem stated isn’t the real problem.
  • Keep all options open and consistently challenge their own beliefs and mindsets as well as others by doing independent research looking for bias.

And if we are critically thinking and truly want to become a thought leader, what does it take in today’s noisy world to be “recognized for having innovative ideas…as Wikipedia’s  suggests is the necessary requirement?

Recently, I was talking with my friend Dr. Liz Alexander about her latest innovative idea. She and co-author Craig Badings, have written a fun (and easy) to read book on how to become a thought leader in your industry;  #Thought Leadership Tweet: 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign (THiNKaha Books). I asked her to share some tips on what it takes to be a thought leader today.

So here’s Dr. Liz….

Thought Leadersip Tweet Book

By Dr. Liz Alexander

Most of us have seen this happen. Maybe it’s a restaurant in a small town or one of the eateries within an entire row of food emporia. But it’s the place that’s always packed out.

It could be because of a signature dish, the exemplary service, or the really cool décor—who’s to say? There’s just something about this one venue that causes people to go out of their way to give them business. They don’t need to bother with advertising and promotion; delighted customers do that for them through word-of-mouth and on-line recommendations. Their competitors never get a look-in.

That’s how I would describe the benefits of being a thought leader!

Thought leadership, unfortunately, has become the latest fad buzzword, bandied about by content marketers, PR companies and consulting firms as if it was as simple as putting out regular white papers, securing media coverage, or opining on where they think an industry is headed. That may garner some attention, but given how much interchangeable content we’re wading in these days, it’s never going to be enough to guarantee becoming the market’s “go to” resource. These are not differentiators.

As Jeff Ernst of Forrester Research wrote in the foreword to my latest book, #Thought Leadership Tweet: 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign:

“Thought leadership marketing doesn’t just educate potential buyers about an issue;
it provides a strong point of view that brings new insight and thinking to an issue.”

Here are three considerations for doing thought leadership well.

  1. Think! Obvious, right? I mean we are talking about thought leadership. But here’s the challenge that shifts ordinary business thinking to the next level: Thought leadership requires the ability to think about issues that are directly relevant to customers or clients—but in a way they couldn’t imagine for themselves.Consider what we wrote for Tweet #16 of our book: “General Patton once said, ‘If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking.’ How differentiated is the thinking in your organization?”
  2. Lead! How courageous are you prepared to be in order to avoid sounding exactly like everyone else in your space? You’re unlikely to be considered a thought leader without occasionally courting controversy.As we point out in Tweet #140: “Thought leaders are brave; explore areas others don’t, raise questions others won’t, and provide insights others can’t.”
  3. Gestate! Creatively speaking, of course. Think Don Draper (of Mad Men). No one questions why he’s lying down, apparently asleep, on the office sofa. He’s not paid to be “action man,” filling his days with endless busy work. He has time to reflect so that when a fresh, genius perspective is called for, he’s able to nail it for clients every time.Or, as we say in Tweet #96: “Creation isn’t the same as curation. It can’t be rushed and is best done in stages. What kind of gestation period are you allowing?”

There are a lot of people calling themselves thought leaders these days, so how can we distinguish the wannabes from the truly insightful thinkers? Like a constantly booked-out restaurant, the evidence lies in how others respond. Look beyond the proliferation of white papers, media coverage and ‘yada-yada’ pontificating. It’s who is helping their target market realize big impact goals that really counts.


Dr. Liz Alexander is the co-author, with Craig Badings, of #Thought Leadership Tweet: 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign (THiNKaha Books). When she’s not writing her own books (14 internationally published titles to date), Liz is a business book strategist and consulting co-author who establishes experts as authors of thought leading books and other client-centric content.  http://drlizalexander.comListen to my latest webinar: How to Transition from Expert to Thought Leader here.