• Definitions of thought leadership

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    19 Jul 2009

    I have my own definition of thought leadership, it goes something like this: ‘Thought Leadership is establishing a relationship with and delivering something of value to your stakeholders and customers that aligns with your brand/company value. In the process you go well beyond merely selling a product or service and establish your brand /company as the expert in that field and differentiate yourself from your competitors.’

    While there are many definitions I’d like to share a few. Professors Terrell and Middlebrooks of the Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and University of Chicago Graduate School of Business capture part of what thought leadership is about http://tinyurl.com/nc5due They say: ‘The key strategy is to be different from competitors…They break free from “be better”, internally oriented initiatives to be different’, externally oriented strategies. Being different is grounded in providing customers with unique value that they cannot get from any other competitor.’

    A RainToday.com research report (www.raintoday.com) thought leadership, published in 2006, notes: You cannot go after a market without something authentic and valuable to offer, without something spun from the passion you hold for your area of expertise…and you cannot continue to teach others and sustain your business as a whole without developing an ongoing relationship with your market. One without the other just doesn’t work.’

    Wikipedia also has a definition: “Thought leadership as a buzz word or jargon ‘used to describe a futurist or person who is recognized among their peer mentors for innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote or share those ideas as actionable, distilled insights.

    ‘It is the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates.

    Thought leadership is also an emerging discipline in its own right. Our ability to understand its core practices and then effectively apply them is key to positioning ourselves and our companies for next level growth.’

    I like the second paragraph of the Wikipedia definition, but this only comes if you have first evaluated your own values, researched the deeper needs of your stakeholders/customers and then identified, sometimes in conjunction with those stakeholders, what will be important for them.

    One of the common themes in most of the thought leadership definitions I have seen is that at its core, thought leadership revolves around developing a deep understanding of your business and customers and, more importantly, the needs of those customers and the broader market in which you operate.

    Please send me your definition I’d love to publish it on my blog.

    17 Responses to “Definitions of thought leadership”

    1. Hi Craig

      Wow! How exciting and congratulations on your book. I have a definition on thoughtleadership to toss in the ring – the strategic practice of cultivating market insight and building foresight using business management tools (media scans, market research, statistics, trend analysis, scenario planning, forecasting etc.) that INFLUENCES organisational change, sustainability and brand integrity. For me – leadership comes down to influence – a leader influences change – managers implement the change – but lack the skill to change direction – leaders who can influence a change in direction based on their intellect (not money, status, charisma, power etc)- are the ones who are ruling the meetings these days.

      Wisdom is the highest level to which we can mature ‘data’ – first into knowledge – then we develop intelligence – and using a time-series we can then build insights on which to develop strategies – the process deepens our understanding of the dynamics influencing the driving forces of our market / business. Only then, do we reach a point of being able to take a sound / wise business decision. Many problems were created in 20th century by management not maturing the data – and their decisions are now tripping them up because it lacked depth, creativity and a systematic approach. I think a thoughtleader must also be a good systems thinker – able to respond to situations analytically and creatively (to join the dots into intelligent patterns and also not react to situations according to prescribed patterns). It is also interesting that social scientists now promote the view that there are 3 stages ‘beyond Maslow’s hierachy of needs’ – when after we self actualise (stage 5), we become more fulfilled by helping others grow (stage 6), then we evolve our awareness of our eco-impact on the world (stage 7) and then we come into unity consciousness (stage 8) at which level wisdom is acquired and for these individuals – fulfilment is found in daily solitary reflection on how s/he makes a positive influence in the world each day. I imagine that a thoughtleader of the 21st century would need to be at stage 8 in order to navigate an organisation to a sustainable better place thro the 21st century’s complexity, chaos and paradigm shifts.

      ALl the best – and regards to Margi,
      Merle

    2. craig says:

      I love Merle’s thinking on thought leadership, particularly the way she has linked to the three stages beyond Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For it is here that the true thought leaders of the next few decades will emerge. There are many different levels of thought leadership but the great thought leaders are the ones who take their stakeholders to a place they didn’t know existed or enlighten/expose an audience to new thinking in a way that adds unexpected value to their lives whether that be in a professional or personal capacity.

    3. [...] Craig Badings nicely assembles several definitions of what thought leadership is, and he invites everyone to contribute their own ideas in the comments.  I particularly like the [...]

    4. [...] Thought leadership is a highly strategic approach to reputation management and/or branding that can be applied across both media and social media with the specific aim of enhancing employer brand equity. [...]

    5. [...] post on employer branding I talked mainly at a more strategic level and talked extensively about thought leadership. And this is all lovely, isn’t it, but let us not, dear congregation in the Church of PR, dwell [...]

    6. [...] relations. And, partly because of the sheer NOISE of all this online activity, this means that thought leadership, value and insightfulness – and let’s not forget HUMOUR – are more valued than ever [...]

    7. [...] describing thought leadership, it is hard to go past corporate communication expert Craig [...]

    8. [...] of excellent thought leadership tend to be originality, boldness and worthiness (i.e. topics that are weighty and that target [...]

    9. [...] ThoughtLeadershipStrategy.net - ‘Thought Leadership is establishing a relationship with and delivering something of value to your stakeholders and customers that aligns with your brand/company value. In the process you go well beyond merely selling a product or service and establish your brand /company as the expert in that field and differentiate yourself from your competitors.’ [...]

    10. Brian Rom says:

      Wikipedia’s definition identifies the key elements of TL: ‘buzzwords’ and ‘ jargon’. Only marketers and academic hucksters could have commoditized such an obvious element of the client- service provider relationship; and with such an infelicitous label to boot. P. J. Barnum would surely chuckle if he knew his oh-so-true words still apply.

    11. craig says:

      Brian I wish it was an obvious element of the client-service provider relationship to which you refer – unfortunately in reality that’s not the case. In fact it is precisely because so many service providers flaccidly and erroneously label so much of what they put out as thought leadership that has led to the phrase being degraded and called a buzzword or jargon.
      In its true sense it is and can be an extremely powerful differentiating factor for a brand and if use properly becomes part of the culture of the organisation much like a sales or innovation culture you find in some organisations. Specific cases that come to mind are Mckinsey, IBM, PwC, Dove to mention a few.

    12. […] an ongoing relationship with your market. One without the other just doesn’t work’, notes RainToday.com on a research report on thought leadership, published in […]

    13. […] of excellent thought leadership tend to be originality, boldness and worthiness (i.e. topics that are weighty and that target […]

    14. Amazing blog! Do you have any tips and hints for aspiring writers?
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    15. craig says:

      I’d go for wordpress – I did and have been very happy with it.

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