Thought leadership as we know it originated in 1964 with the publication of McKinsey and Company’s McKinsey Quarterly Management Journal. McKinsey not only tapped into the need for more specialised knowledge in the consulting industry, but also established itself as a trusted authority.
Despite the concept of thought leadership beginning in the 1960s, the term was not coined until 1994. These honours go to Joel Kurtzman, editor in chief of Business & Strategy magazine.
Thought leaders are respected experts in their industry. They are trusted sources, constantly inspiring, innovating and creating influential content. Thought leaders build brand awareness, generate advocates and position brands as trustworthy sources. A thought leader also becomes the face of a brand - by having a thought leader at the forefront, a brand develops a human face with whom people can identify.
‘Thought leader’ is an earned title.
A thought leader is an authority figure and the title is given by the public, who are inspired, motivated and encouraged by the thought leader.
The first thing you need to become a thought leader is great content. Content that challenges concepts, questions trends and answers vital industry-specific questions, but also content that others recognise as innovative and inspirational.
Once you have great content, you need to promote it. Pique the interest of those in your industry with catching headlines and engaging copy.
Thought leaders are always learning, always developing and always engaging. Involve yourself in conversations on social media, in forums and in LinkedIn groups. Present yourself as knowledgeable but always be learning. Be the one who has the answers to the questions, but asks them too. Thought leaders are passionate and knowledgeable, but, importantly, they want to share their knowledge and insights.
Every two years IBM releases its Global CEO study after interviewing 1,700 CEOs around the world on their concerns, interests and goals. This report helps demonstrate IBM’s knowledge and connections, and reinforces its position as the leading thought leader in the business consulting industry.
Each year, Strategy& (formerly Booz and Company) releases its Innovation 1,000 study. It analyses the budgets of the 1,000 biggest-spending companies in the world to examine the relationship between Research and Development spend and performance.