Prepping for a keynote presentation, I decided to try to really refine my definition of “thought leadership.” This term is often derided — for good reasons — but I see it as a central component of leading in a world marked by mobility (you don’t have to work where you live), networks (you’re changed by connection, whether you like it or not), and near constant change and upheaval (too many examples to mention). So here’s my latest working definition:
Thought leadership is a practice wherein you create a consistent, public (greater than 1) breadcrumb trail of inquiry, discovery, enthusiasm, generosity, and gratitude. In a world that is as networked — and changes as constantly — as ours, leaders are those people who can lead by learning and learn by leading. Thought leadership is a need-to-have, not a nice-to-have, an essential component of leadership, not a side effect, alternate route, or escape plan. Done well, thought leadership doesn’t lead you away from your work, but deeper into it, drawing others closer to it as well. It amplifies, connects, accelerates, and prods, flooding existing systems with new ideas.