What does thought leadership stand for you?

Prakash Menon

CEO, TransBrahma, Chief Advisor, Ensemble IAS Academy

What Makes a Thought Leader?

A Thought Leader is a subject-matter expert who has unique insights or perspectives to share in their area of expertise. Their ideas are packaged in an accessible and usually attractive format, and they are distributed to a market that is hungry for their insights in direction and solutions to problems. The ideas that they offer are often powerful enough to shift or contribute to the future direction of an industry, community or even a whole way of thinking.

Thought Leaders are prevalent in areas as wide ranging as: marketing, accounting, sales, fitness, budgeting, design, website development, innovation, dieting, presentation skills, writing, cooking, gardening, graphic design, entrepreneurial skills, project management, public relations, leadership development, coaching, mentoring, facilitating, film making, art, podcasting, blogging, game design, creativity, futurism, computer programming, social planning, event management, training, psychology, education, anthropology, charity fundraising, organizational development, business consulting, nutrition, law, and storytelling – practically any existing field of work or thought that you can think of.

However, having a thorough knowledge and unique insights into a topic is only the beginning of Thought Leadership. Of equal importance is the Thought Leader’s ability to get their ideas out there into the market and provide solutions. Initially, Joel Kurtzman and his team used the term ‘Thought Leader’ as internal jargon to designate their interview subjects who had business ideas that merited attention for publication in their magazine.

Among the first of those who were designated as ‘Thought Leaders’ was British management thinker Charles Handy, who advanced the idea of a ‘portfolio worker’. He suggested this strange new concept

that workers do only one job in but may go career changes; a extend to include serving multiple roles within one businesses. The simply move

as and when contributing to leadership with expertise or skill at any given time.

not have to have their working life through several career might even the idea of a person parts or working

or multiple employee could around the business needed,
projects and
their particular
set where required


Many leading entrepreneurs are easily identified as Thought Leaders. These are the business leaders who have identified the need for a product or service and created a business to offer this to others. When an entrepreneur becomes a Thought Leader, they have used their subject-matter expertise to start, grow or sell businesses or to develop single businesses into chains.


These are individuals who are often identified as subject-matter experts and work within large organizations. They are often in management roles for organizational development, project management, learning and development, communications, sales and marketing and research and design. Whatever the role or task, intrapreneurs can become Thought Leaders when they learn how or begin to develop the breakthrough ideas and perspectives that they promote on behalf of their organization, in such a way as to position the company and themselves as dominant forces within their industry.


These are sole traders or partners who run their own business practice, which comprises themselves as a subject-matter expert – and they might write, speak, mentor and train in their area of expertise – perhaps with the assistance of a personal or virtual assistant, and perhaps an office manager or a research assistant. They are much more than just consultants. Infopreneurs become recognized as Thought Leaders when they clearly define a unique perspective or offering to the market based around the subject in which they are an expert.


Leading members of society who have given back to their communities in a unique and innovative way have created a new breed we call the socialpreneur. This has become such a prevailing trend between the collaboration of these social entrepreneurs and business for mutual commercial gain. These Thought Leaders have brought their unique perspective to support a non-profit initiative or organization and harnessed their creative genius, network and ability to get things done like never before. In previous generations, the Tata group of companies and Azim Premji of Wipro have created a number of foundations to give back to communities, using their wealth as the primary method of spreading their particular cause.

Altering the Business Landscape

Regardless of what category a Thought Leader comes from, their contribution is significant. More importantly, a significant element of Thought Leadership has, in recent times, been targeted towards alteration of the business landscape in dire times, such as those the global market has seen over the last decade. What usually happens during an economic downturn is that the basic rules of the workplace change dramatically. Both Caterpillar and Yahoo have taken great advantage or our current economic disaster, now rolling into its third year with a full head of steam and no end in sight, and they have actually profited financially from their Thought Leadership.

This is not a case for proving or justifying the benefit and the value of Thought Leadership, since this has been proven time and time again over the last century.
 What needs to be understood is that in the business and commercial world, investment in Thought Leadership will not cease, regardless of what issues arise for the economy. Certainly, Yahoo and Caterpillar, along with Cisco’s Original Thinkers Thought Leadership programme, are not alone in their desire to further Thought Leadership principles.

Without throwing out a whole lot of hard facts about the numbers and percentages of industrial, informative, medicinal and other named business sectors of the world economy, we can still shed some light on just how many companies are investing money in Thought Leadership.

It is estimated that 15-25 per cent of the worldwide commercial marketplace will soon invest money, time and labor in their development of Thought Leadership, in some form or another. The main factors of the decision to invest in Thought Leadership for the companies and individual practitioners

who have discovered and are encouraging this dynamic way of growing and developing their business are primarily the likelihood that the work of Thought Leaders will garner profitability in the interim, and that they will position themselves most effectively for the future, no matter what economic realities may emerge.

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