What is thought leadership?

Like most buzzwords, thought leadership is an often misused and misunderstood term. But what is it really? And why do you need to consider developing and publishing thought leadership? To highlight the problem with most buzzwords, Wikipedia calls thought leadership "business jargon" and defines it as content that is recognized by others as innovative, covering trends and topics that influence an industry.

Forbes defines a Thought Leader as a person or firm that is not only recognized but also who profits from the recognition of authority.

And just recently, Daniel Rasmus provided this definition: Thought Leadership should be an entry point to a relationship. Thought leadership should intrigue, challenge, and inspire even people already familiar with a company. It should help start a relationship where none exists, and it should enhance existing relationships.

In general, Thought Leadership is simply about becoming an authority on relevant topics by delivering the answers to the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience. While it can include your unique perspective on hot topics relevant for your customers, the key is that the agenda is set by your audience. They determine what the questions are. One simply needs to answer them. So the level of authority is really determined by how well one answer those most important questions.

Based on the experience of working with professionals, their firms and other types of organizations, there is a two-part definition of what constitutes a thought leader: