You may think the term “Thought Leader” is new, developed in the past decade or so. Well, you are partially correct. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the term “thought leader” to 1887. That is when Henry Ward Beecher, an author and abolitionist, was referred to as “one of the great thought leaders in America.”
But then, the term essentially vanished. It was not mentioned again, at least in the American press, until 1990, when the Wall Street Journal used it to describe the success of intellectually stimulating magazines such as the MIT Technology Review, The Economist, and The National Review.
At the same time, Silicon Valley took off. In the 1990s, Thought Leaders started crawling out of the woodwork, beginning with Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, and many more.
However, most of these early Thought Leaders were not recognized as Thought Leaders at the time. In fact, many were viewed as passing fancies. Their ideas and the products they invented or promoted were interesting but had no true value.
Case In Point:
In 1967, Douglas Engelbart patented what we now refer to as a computer mouse. Xerox was the first company to adopt the system with one of their photocopying systems in 1973. However, the “mouse” just did not take. Zerox users preferred pushing buttons and not pushing a mouse. Considered a passing fancy, it would take another decade from the computer mouse found its niche.
Recognizing and Appreciating Thought Leaders
It was not until the early 2000s that their thoughts, inventions, business styles, and abilities became honored and appreciated. These Thought Leaders were singular in many ways, but they all seemed to have a few important characteristics in common:
- They were able to drive conversations about their passions, getting others to support them, feel excited about them, and follow them.
- They introduced and championed innovative ideas and new ways of thinking, which opened the doors to new possibilities.
- They had what can only be described as intellectual “firepower.”
- They created entirely new mindsets for addressing challenges.
- They advanced pioneering ideas that most people had never thought of before.
- They had market foresight and recognized market trends long before others. Often this foresight led to the introduction of new products and services not offered by others.
- Most importantly, they were able to clearly articulate these ideas, whether in writing or in oral presentations, so that everyone could understand them and the points they were making.
Although most of these Thought Leaders share these key components, there is one more thing we must add: To become a true Thought Leader, they had to earn the trust and recognition of those in the companies in which they worked, along with prospects, customers, and the public. As their ideas, products, and directions proved valuable, that is when they became recognized as authorities in their respective fields.
It’s interesting to note that these early Thought Leaders grew to prominence long before social media platforms were introduced. Rather, they were promoted through trade and consumer publications.
This means it was content — written words — that helped them become leaders, which is still how it happens today.
What I’m talking about is really a form of content marketing. Publishing articles in trade magazines, as well as on LinkedIn profiles and company webpages, is how Thought Leaders establish a reputation and become trusted authorities. If such practices are kept up on a regular basis, in time these leaders grow their audience, and as they do, more prospects and customers recognize their insights and value their ideas, turning their expertise into profits.
When managed correctly, the process is ongoing with new articles and new content published regularly; it then becomes like an old locomotive coming out of the train barn. It starts slowly but gains speed and momentum as it moves forward.
More Thought Leadership Content Found Here