What is a Thought Leader?

Some years ago, I polled colleagues of mine for an informal survey on What is a Thought Leader?

I was gathering this information because coaching clients of mine were asking me to help them be regarded as a thought leader.  My role was to make certain that they looked and behaved as thought leaders by their presence and physical expression.  Here is what I received from my thoughtful and intelligent friends:

  • Someone who has insight about what will matter NEXT…not just now.  Who watches trends and anticipates where things are going.
  • Someone who finds creative ways to drive meaningful change within the real constraints of business today.  (Lots of people can come up with fabulous ideas, but few can find ways to put them to work with real people in the real world.  And even fewer have the wherewithal to actually carry the great ideas to completion).
  • Someone who is wise as well as smart.
  • Someone who watches and listens before talking.
  • Someone who brings insight from experience in the old and new worlds (pre-and post-9/11, traditional and global economies, etc.).
  • Not only do they anticipate what is next but they have a proven track record of being right.
  • Thought leaders are also sought out for advice and opinions.
  • They are usually published for their forward thinking ideas, concepts and theories.  They usually develop the new way and others follow.
  • Lateral, original, creative, free thinking, persuasive, and confident.
  • Someone who has the guts to move on an idea against the odds, and drag every one else along.
  • Someone who is clear about where his/her thoughts begin and end versus outside influences.
  • Someone who generates discussion but doesn’t have to be at the center of it.
  • Someone who isn’t trying too hard to be a thought leader, but rather excels at being in the moment and helps progress evolve.
  • Identifies new trends (“sees them coming”) connects them to today’s business problems.
  • Looks beyond today, but is known as more than just a “conceptual dreamer.”  Thought Leaders are well-regarded because they have executed repeatedly. (that is, prove their ideas work)
  • Thought Leader –as a term, can seem too isolationist. You can’t deliver great ideas in a vacuum.  One needs to incorporate and collaborate constantly with others who are excellent.
  • A Thought Leader is constantly building network of people from whom to draw ideas, and is putting unlikely ideas together. (Looks to another industry to solve problems, take a best practice and apply it in a surprising way.)
  • Someone who knows, fundamentally knows, that you’ll never learn anything with your mouth open.  You might say…”guess that would make it hard to be a thought leader?”
  • Creating moments when your listeners say, “Great idea.  Never thought of that.”  I feel those happen when you ask questions that show insight.

What else? Do you have other qualities you can think of?