Last edited 27 Feb 2021

Thought leadership

Thought leadership’ is an activity that comes from being a ‘thought leader’, whether that is an individual, a firm, educational establishment, government agency, institution and so on.

Thought leadership provides informed opinions, proposals, insights and conclusions, usually from leaders in their field or in a particular branch of knowledge. When promulgated, this should be backed up by research or innovative thinking and bring new understanding to a particular topic. Thought leaders are usually trusted sources who can generate innovative ideas that may be inspirational and possibly replicable.

Thought leadership may be presented to a target audience through lectures, television, radio, webinars, podcasts, articles, white papers and so on. The latter are usually employed by engineering, high-tech companies, institutions and government agencies to promote their authority and leadership.

Individuals can also be thought leaders. But when thought leadership is associated with commercial enterprises, it is regarded in some quarters as more akin to content marketing, where the talent, knowledge and specialisms inside that company are used to promote a particular theme that will bring it benefits. In doing this, some firms publish ‘white papers’ highlighting the economic benefits of what they are promoting. However, these are distinct from ‘technical white papers’ which tend to answer important questions in the minds of the target audience and generate unique ideas.

More often than not, thought leadership is a tool companies use to raise their profile in the marketplace and/or increase demand for their products or services. They present a unique point of view on a particular topic which may not in fact be new but has been tweaked to differentiate the company’s offering from that of its competitors. However, if a company uses thought leadership in this way to highlight its offering and establish superiority over its competitors it may risk losing the trust of its audience. It is for this reason that some detractors have condemned thought leadership as meaningless management speak.

Philosophers too, might argue that the very concept of thought leadership is an oxymoron as – if thought is a logical process undertaken by rational people – the concept of a ‘leader’ in thought is illogical.

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