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What Does Being A Thought Leader Actually Mean?

Content marketing is full of buzzwords that are tossed around like bouquets at weddings.

SEO optimization, ROI, engagement, analytics, call to action, persona, buyer journey, lead generation, open rate, click rate, and conversions. 

These terms are ubiquitous in my world, and so is this one: “Thought Leader.” 

Thought Leader seems to stick to everything from LinkedIn profiles to the bio sections of Twitter (X). But what does being a thought leader actually entail? Is it just a fancy way of saying "I know stuff"? Or is there more depth to it?

Let's dive in.

Leading with Innovation and Insight

A thought leader is an individual recognized as a leading authority on innovative concepts or intellectual movements.

These are the folks who aren't just regurgitating the same old "best practices" and industry jargon. Nope. They're the ones challenging the status quo and asking the hard questions. They're not afraid to voice their opinions, even if it means going against the grain. 

Who Are These Thought Leaders?

Let’s start with the famous ones:

  • Neil deGrasse Tyson – As an astrophysicist and science communicator, Tyson has made significant contributions to the public's understanding of science, space, and the universe through his books, television appearances, and podcasts. He’s also goofy and funny as hell.
  • Warren Buffett – Renown as one of the most successful investors of all time, Buffett's investment philosophy and insights into the economy have made him a guiding voice in finance and investment. For those keeping score, Warren Buffett’s net worth is $130 billion while Jimmy Buffett’s was a measly $1 billion. But he sang songs about cheeseburgers in the Florida Keys, and Warren is from Omaha.

  • Trigger warning: Elon Musk -  Known for his work with Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, and occasional expressions of antisemitism, Musk has consistently pushed the boundaries of technology and innovation, challenging industries to rethink what's possible in space travel, electric vehicles, and neural technology.

Is the only criteria for thought-leadership astrophysics acumen, virtuosic investing, and buying Twitter and changing its name to X? I mean, it doesn’t hurt, but the answer is no. 

The small business owner can earn that status, too. For example, a general contractor can showcase their expertise and forward-thinking approach by writing articles, blog posts, or white papers and speaking on topics like sustainable building practices, the latest construction technologies (e.g., 3D printing in construction), or efficient project management techniques. 

Small businesses don’t need global audiences (otherwise, they wouldn’t be small businesses) to be thought leaders when they could corner smaller markets.

What Thought Leadership Is Not

You can’t just scream from the rooftops, “I’m a thought leader!”, and bam, everyone believes you. 

Now, if you want to be a cult leader, that’s a different story. 

Anyway, it’s important to understand what thought leadership is not:

  • Self-promotion: Me! Me! Me! No! No! No! Thought leadership is not merely about promoting oneself or one’s business; it involves contributing value and insights to your industry.

  • Echoing popular opinions: Simply repeating what is already widely accepted or popular does not constitute thought leadership.

  • Spreading thin content: Sharing content that lacks depth, original insights, or value adds more noise than knowledge.

  • Focusing on quantity over quality: Thought leadership is not an expression of how much content you produce but the impact and value of that content.

  • Using jargon to impress: Employing complex terminology or jargon to seem knowledgeable often obscures rather than clarifies your message.

  • Ego boosting: Who doesn’t like a nice ego stroke? You can always seek it elsewhere. True thought leadership is not an exercise in boosting one's ego but in sharing knowledge that benefits others.

  • Positional authority: Holding a title or position of authority does not automatically make someone a thought leader; it’s the insights and contributions that count. However, there was a time when I changed my title in my email signature from “President” to “Lord Protector.” 

Thanks for Sharing 

A word on sharing - Thought leaders are generous with their knowledge rather than hoarders. 

They're the ones writing the insightful blog posts (ahem), speaking at conferences, and participating in panel discussions. They believe in spreading the wealth, helping to elevate the industry as a whole.

Your homework? Become a thought leader. You have until midnight.

Good luck.

Sharing my passion through words is my craft, and I could add value by helping you voice yours. Contact me here, at or 224-645-2748.

About the Author, David Telisman

I am a Writer and Content Creator, and I work with businesses to inspire their customers to buy from them. I believe that my clients deserve to feel proud of how their content marketing looks and what it says, and I deliver by providing expert copywriting and marketing solutions.

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