The phrases “thought leader” and “thought leadership” seem to be everywhere today. What exactly is a thought leader?

It’s tricky because the phrases “thought leader” and “thought leadership” are new and trendy. Some such phrases have “stickiness” meaning that they stay around for a long time, possibly even becoming part of our every day vocabulary. I think these phrases have this “stickiness” and we’re going to see them around for a long time.

There is of course, another question. Are you a thought leader?

Here are a few thoughts on what characterizes thought leaders:

  1. Thought leaders are not so by virtue of a title or a job; they are so because of who they are and how they think and behave.
  2. Thought leaders think deeply about issues; they think them through from beginning to end and understand issues profoundly.
  3. Thought leaders”walk the talk”, not pontificate on a point.
  4. Thought leaders communicate their thoughts; they don’t just keep them inside.
  5. Thought leaders are eloquent, clear communicators. No rambling. No disjointed thoughts. They know how to get the point across.
  6. Thought leaders shares their ideas and knowledge generously.
  7. Thought leaders are courageous enough to share their thoughts despite criticism.
  8. Thought leaders are wise enough to allow themselves to be challenged by others, and to challenge their own assumptions, too.
  9. Thought leaders influence how others think and what they believe.
  10. Thought leaders inspire trust; they don’t demand it.
  11. Thought leaders are trend-setters and idea-shapers.
  12. Thought leaders have excellent reputations, or they build an excellent reputation as they go along.
  13. Thought leaders are passionate, but not pushy.
  14. Thought leaders are forward-thinking.
  15. Thought leaders are innovative.
  16. Thought leaders are confident, but not cocky.
  17. Thought leaders are sincere.
  18. Thought leaders are authentic.
  19. Thought leaders take a stand.
  20. Thought leaders are consistent with their message.
  21. Thought leaders challenge others to think in new ways and try new things.
  22. Thought leaders can share the same message in a variety of ways. They don’t sound like a broken record.
  23. Thought leaders have longevity. They are not “here today and gone tomorrow”.
  24. Thought leaders are compassionate. They understand the human situation and feel it deep in their soul.
  25. Thought leaders are driven to make a difference.
  26. Thought leaders believe in the possibility of transformation.
  27. Thought leaders believe in others’ potential.
  28. Thought leaders are lifelong learners; they learn constantly and enjoy doing so.
  29. Thought leaders have charisma not because of a great smile or chiseled features, but because they offer something fresh and new.
  30. Thought leaders are forward-focussed, allowing the past to inform, but not impede their thoughts.
  31. Thought leaders have an innate sense of hope about the future.

While the phrases “thought leader” and “thought leadership” may be new, such leaders have existed throughout history. They challenge us to think in new ways and embrace the future.


About the Author

Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton is an international speaker, author, researcher and consultant. She holds an earned Ph.D. in Leadership from the University of Calgary, Canada, where she has worked and studied since 1994.

An international speaker, Dr. Eaton has presented on her work in 7 countries and 2 languages. She also works as a trusted advisor to leaders in education and business, in a consulting and coaching role.

Check out her blog at http://www.drsaraheaton.wordpress.com

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