Wikipedia defines the term thought leader as a buzzword or article of jargon used to describe a person who is recognized among his or her peers for innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote those ideas. The term can also be applied to companies, usually small businesses. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thought_leader)
According to commentator Elise Bauer, a distinguishing characteristic of a thought leader is “the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates.”
Trust in small businesses is built on reputation and on what others say about them. Bauer states that “Small companies have to work hard to get visibility, especially when the market is crowded with competitors all vying for the same business. One approach to gaining visibility is by becoming an industry thought leader.”
Bauer confirms that it’s not the size of the company that makes it a thought leader in an industry or a community, but rather the recognition it is given for its approach to doing business. “Companies will look to you for insight and vision. Journalists will quote you, analysts will call you and web sites will link to you.”
Small business owners understand that thought leadership requires a spirit of generosity - generosity of one’s time, intelligence and knowledge. It requires a trust that by being open with what they know, and by sharing their time and knowledge, the world will reward their efforts. Successful entrepreneurs implement thought leadership as a strategic imperative for their company. Ideas and insight don’t require dominant market share or millions in capital expenditures. Their companies don’t need to be a leader in sales to be considered a thought leader.
Becoming a thought leader does require work and commitment. It demands the difficult task of looking at one’s company from the perspective of the world outside and instinctively making decisions accordingly. Most companies fail miserably at this. Generating an ongoing effort towards thought leadership is the best way to ensure positive results. This is a key differentiating point in thought leadership between successful small business owners and their larger competitors.
More Thoughts on Leadership
Theodore Hesburgh - The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision.
Tony Blair - The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.
Vince Lombardi - Leaders aren’t born they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.
Warren Bennis - The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.