What is thought leadership?


Today, in one of my journalism lectures, a guest speaker mentioned the phrase “thought leadership” when she was talking about students promoting their own personal brand.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard that term before, and I wrote it down in the margins of my notebook.

Thought leadership. Are there thought leaders? “Thought leadership” seems like the title of a seminar at a business conference. It’s bizarre to think that there are people out there leading a school of thought, a strain of thought, a collection of thoughts. But then again, philosophers, teachers, and more are probably natural thought leaders.

They are on the forefront of promoting ideas that they have about the world, and that’s just amazing to me.

I can be a thought leader, and you can too. In fact, I would argue that many of us (peers) are already thought leaders in some way. If you’re the ring leader of your friend group, you may have some sway over the opinions of your friends. If you’re the president of a club, you may have the final say over a decision that the club makes, dictating the collective stance of a group of people.

Thought leadership is a status attained when you present an idea and are able to back it up and have people follow along and support you.

Is this blog an example of thought leadership? Maybe. I’m trying to write about topics that people can relate to, about subjects that are relevant to all of our lives. Sometimes, I’m sure I make statements that were already intuitive to you. In that case, the blog post was for my own personal benefit. It’s a way I sort out my thoughts. But sometimes the idea is articulated in a way no one has read, and boom, you got yourself a thought leader.

It turns out, this idea of a thought leader is not new at all. This New York Times article poses a thought leader as a writer, but varies in casting this model in positive and negative lights:

Of course the writer in this unjustly obscure phase will develop the rabid art of being condescending from below. Of course he will confuse his verbal dexterity for moral superiority. Of course he will seek to establish his edgy in-group identity by trying to prove that he was never really that into Macklemore.

Interesting. David Brooks illustrates the entire life of a thought leader, never really concluding how fulfilling the role model’s life can be.

Thought Leadership Lab exemplifies thought leaders as founders of innovative companies and Fast Company asserts that thought leadership is imperative to a successful business model.

But I would argue that it is possible to be a thought leader in our everyday lives, as students in school. We specialize in some sort of area of expertise, and are the first face to pop into someone’s head when they hear “computer science” or “journalistic ethics”.


  1. Pingback: The spark - finding myself - Turn Toward the LightTurn Toward the Light
  2. Sabina

    I think any time someone shares an opinion they’re engaging in thought leadership, because it might make the listener (or reader, if it’s written) consider a new perspective, ingrain an existing one, or normalize a familiar one.


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