The Thinker

Ponderings: What is a Thought Leader?

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A thought leader is a term that I heard a lot when I first started swimming around in the social media pool. But I had no idea what it really meant. My first experience with a definition of the term was on the Klout style chart — I think I started in the explorer category. Klout defines a thought leader as “Your followers rely on you, not only to share the relevant news, but to give your opinion on the issues. People look to you to help them understand the day's developments. You understand what's important and what your audience values.”

So my theory at this point was that moving to that category would mean that I would be a thought leader (naive, I know!) but now that I have been in that category for quite sometime. I can tell you that does not define you. Nor should you be fooled into thinking that any Klout category or score quantifies you. However, it is nice to know that according to the current algorithms, my audience may view my social media presence as valuable enough to share; or at least they like to talk to me. Hooray!

To me, a true thought leader is someone who is leading by example and putting into practice all the things that they tweet, post and write about on a daily basis. Leading by example while taking risks in their positions is crucial. It is not someone just talking online, it is much more than that. For me, I will never stop asking questions. My friends can attest to this, as I am fascinated with life and what other people are contemplating.

The biggest blessing in social media has been being able to interact with people whom I respect and learn from daily. “Thought leader” is a subjective term. We will all look up to and learn from different sources, have varied experiences and process them internally and externally based on our mood, past life experiences, etc. The willingness to expand, evolve and grow as a person is very important because it is from this position that you remain fresh in your own opinions and ideals. True thought leadership is based on clout not Klout. You have may have thought leaders whose books you read, some whose blogs you follow and some you talk to daily. Keep an open mind, ask questions and develop your own opinions.

While pondering this topic, I decided to ask some people who I respect and admire in their thought leadership about what they felt. A few people I consider to be thought leaders are: Mother Teresa, Mari Smith, Olivier Blanchard and the fabulous people below.

From Guy KawasakiFormer Chief Evangelist at Apple, Author of 1o Books including Enchantment; The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds & Actions.  You can find him on Google +.

“A thought leader is someone who creates something before people realize that they need it.”

“Best example, of course, is Steve Jobs. Richard Branson too.”

From Jay Baer: President, Convince & Convert, Co-Author, The NOW Revolution, Convince and Convert Blog and Social Media Keynote Speaker

“A thought leader is someone with proven expertise and experience who isn't afraid to share it with the world without direct compensation. That combination isn't a given. There are lots of experts out there who refuse to “open the kimono of knowledge.” That's a shame. Conversely, there are lots of non-experts out there who share and publish like crazy unproven ideas and opinions of limited value and depth. That's a bigger shame.”

“Thought leaders include Seth Godin, Avinish Kaushik, Bryan Eisenberg.”

From Jessica Northey: Social Mediologist, Social Media, Broadcasting, Country and Music Blogger/Journalist as well as a Nationally Recognized Speaker. Finger Candy Media

“A thought leader is true to themselves even when others might laugh, disagree or nay-say. They actually walk their talk. My grandpa used to always say ‘run your own race’ as well as things like, ‘drive three cars ahead of you’, and ‘second guessing instinct causes accidents.’  Looking back, I can see how he literally applied these sayings to life. Focus on the grooves in your track, the folks drafting you might not be chasing you at all. Matter of fact, they might not even notice you. Quit worrying about what everyone else is doing. Be yourself, everyone is taken.”

“Be an original, share your enthusiasm, educate yourself on your industry, make enough room for others, be open to criticism and don't get short-sighted. There will be as many bad days as good days but as long as you never stop believing in your dream, you will get somewhere. The question is always where and can you live with the consequences of your actions? And remember the body you walk over today might be attached to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow. Try to tread lightly and remember other people are leading their own thoughts as well… who are you to judge them?”

“I look to people like Lee Abrams, Amanda Hite, Lori Lewis, Larry Pareigis and Carrie Wilkerson. They just get it and do it.”

From Dino Dogan:  Founder of, Blogger at DIY Blogger Net , #140 Conference Speaker & #unGeeked Discussion Leader. And, global force for badassery.

“The idea, and often the thought leader, receives a strong opposition. Galileo gets imprisoned for presenting the heliocentric view of the solar system — to continue with the same example. The idea gets small but strong support from the idea-believers.”

”The idea becomes accepted as common fact, usually too late for the thought leader.”

“It's much safer to regurgitate already accepted ideas and present yourself as a thought leader. We call those people ‘experts’”.

“Who are my thought leaders? Who is doing extraordinary and forward-thinking things in this world?”

“Dalai Lama by way of Buddha.”

“Martin Luther King Jr. by way of Jesus.”

“Mahatma Gandhi by way of Buddha. There's that Buddha again.”

“Professor Cornel West by way of Buddha and Jesus with a dash of Mohamed thrown in for good measure.”

“Albert Einstein and Nicola Tesla by way of Science.”

“While some of these folks are dead, their actions endure.

From Sam Fiorella: Chief Strategy Sensei at Sensei Marketing, Blogs at The Social Roadmap and Keynote speaker.

“Thought leaders do not become thought leaders by trying to be one; that’s an external focus that only satisfies the ego and blocks true enlightenment on any subject. A thought leader has a singular, internal focus on achieving mastery of a particular discipline.”

“I’d include: Chris Heuer, Jeff Wilson & Deb Weinstein as people who I look to as thought-leaders.”

Thank you so much to Guy, Jay, Jessica, Sam, Paul and Dino for sharing with me, and ultimately you, what their thoughts were on the subject.

I am considering this format for a weekly post with a new question each week and other guests responding. What do you think? I'd love to know if you'd be interested in reading it and participating in it with me. Peggy's Ponderings?

Now it's your turn, what do YOU think a thought leader is and who do you feels hits the mark for you? Looking forward to your comments.

Featured image courtesy  by elkit some rights reserved via Creative Commons.

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  1. Too much wisdom Peg! Gonna have to read it twice now! Thanks a lot. Takeaway (among many): To me, a true thought leader is someone who is leading by example and putting into practice all the things that they tweet, post and write about on a daily basis. 

    Be careful of those sharks while you’re swimming!

    1. Is there such a thing as too much wisdom Bruce? It thrills me that you’d want to read it twice – interesting and varied perspectives, no? 

      I will look out for those sharks! Thankfully I have many friends, like you, who make it a safe and enriching environment.

      1. Of course you can’t have too much wisdom! It’s the ONLY thing that comes with getting older that I value! VERY interesting and varied perspectives – well researched. This article/blog/column took some genuine effort which is why I appreciate it so much! I’ve got it “Open” as I sincerely want to fully digest it!

        1. That means a lot to me Bruce, thanks! What do you think of this as a weekly feature? New questions & different folks chiming in – interesting?

  2. Hello Marc –

    Appreciate your comments on this topic – I agree with you that thought leaders can be anyone. Very true!

  3. Libby – Thank you so much for that! It was a great learning experience for me and I am so happy you enjoyed it.

  4. Love this Peg! Awesome job. Love how you gathered opinions from fellow thought leaders and gained insight from what everyone had to say! It would make a super weekly format I agree, so interactive! You put together a lot of great defining, thought-provoking information on a rather broad concept. What do I think a thought leader is? Someone like you Peg who seeks to inform and works hard to bring fresh, insightful information. Everyone you mentioned and polled sure qualifies. I also like Josepf Haslam and Mack Collier and have learned a lot from all of you!

    1. So honored Libby – I don’t consider myself a thought leader but certainly someone with a lot of questions. I appreciate your thoughts & I am going to try this weekly as I enjoyed the process and learned so much from it. 

      Thank for you time in commenting and sharing your thoughts!

  5. Hi Jodi,
    So glad you enjoyed it – those quotes are from @jessicanorthey:disqus ‘s quote. She does have amazing things to say!

  6. Hey Ben~
    “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” is a great quote from Oscar Wilde via Jessica Northey. Awesome everyday something to think about!

    I consider myself to be a person with a lot of questions and I love to know what others are thinking. So interesting to me.

  7. Hello Craig!
    Nice to meet you – I am sure that this topic must have been especially interesting to you. I will check out your blog later.

    Thanks for throwing your thought leadership definition into the mix.

  8. You excel at sharing the knowledge Sam – you are definitely one of the people that I personally ask questions to and I have learned so much from you. You have always been so generous in your responses even when I was very new and probably asked really obvious questions. Thank you for that!

    And keep on doing your thing! {{{hugs back}}}

  9. Peggy I love your post. I think all labeling with leaders started with introduction of Klout. For long period of time I was in same label group with you and quite frankly happy that i moved out. I am not a though leader and i don’t have desire to be, calls for many responsibilities to be carried with title. But we need to understand that many people simply titiles. Give them artificial power and ego boost. But this only last till they dont fail in the role. 
    Again great post and love the collection of opinions. 

    1. I think that the term thought leader has been around for longer than Klout – my intention of bringing that into the conversation is that it is very easy as you say to “give them artificial power and an ego boost.”  And I agree with your thought that people simplify titles.

      I appreciate your putting in your two cents. 😀

  10. This is fantastic and mirrors a lot of what I think about Klout, Tweetlevel and other tools that supposedly measure influence. Thought leaders are those like Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama–I couldn’t think of coming close to influencing the masses like them. Nor would I want to shoulder the burden of such responsibility.

    I’ve been labeled a “tastemaker” recently, and I think it’s funny. If the Klout folks actually read my work, they would know that I’m just a simple GA girl who isn’t interested in being a tastemaker, and I don’t have time to be a thought leader. I discovered this before I even became entrenched in social media–almost ten years in mortgage banking showed me that I wouldn’t want to deal with the pressure of setting the standard for the rest of my life.

    On the other hand, I’ll give and receive Klout, because if there might be any incentive in the future to have it, I’m all for it. Also, for some people who might have some problems with self-confidence or seem to need cheered up, I’ll award Klout just to try to brighten their day.

    I’m rambling now–I do that sometimes. Just discovered your blog today and will be coming back for more. Thanks for the great post!

    1. Hi Amberr
      So glad you found me! It is a very interesting topic and I agree with you about the responsibility that it would take to be a TRUE thought leader. So many are influenced by the scores, grades and charts I truly wonder how this is affecting the self esteem of people: both in a negative and positive way. Taking all those things with a grain of salt is important but when you are new, you just don’t know and they are discussed a lot.

      I also like to give and receive +K and have fun with the tweets when I sent them. It is like a hug.
      Come back for more!

  11. On point as usual Peg. Not only do you and I share a love for “Alabama Slammers” but awesome to see we also share an admiration for a lot of the same people. Like Paul, Sam and Jessica who are in my opinion “thought leaders.” Thanks for this.

    1. Hi Dave!
      So happy you enjoyed it – we are lucky to know some very interesting and smart people. I appreciate your taking the time to read & comment on my post. 🙂

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