How to tell if you’re a ‘thought leader’

In these heady digital days, there are a lot of smart people out there with a lot of smart thoughts. You’re probably one of them.

But are you a “thought leader?”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term dates to an 1887 statement made about abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher who was called “one of the great thought-leaders in America.”

Inevitably, marketing folk usurped the term some time in the 1990s and revised and water-downed its meaning to use it to further coerce clients into giving them more pennies for their thoughts.

It’s gotten to the point where, today, content marketers have created many new subsets to the thought-leader species: There are evangelical thought leaders, intrapreneur and infopreneur thought leaders, e-thought leaders and even “thought” thought leaders.

But the question remains: Are you an actual thought leader? Well, there are several tell-tale signs.

Is your head shaved?
Too much head hair interferes with both incoming and outgoing thoughts (see: 1980s hair metal lyrics, and Shingy). The genius Godin isn’t just a thought leader to marketers; he is their God. Just look at all these marrowy quotes. After absorbing his proprietary Acute Heptagram of Impact, I now only dream about marketing solutions. And sex with marketers.

(L-R): Marc Andreessen, Seth Godin, Richard Riddick

When others zig, do you zag?
Or, when others zag, do you zig? When others retreat, do you fight? When others take the high road, do you take the low road? When others bunt, do you swing from the heels? When others get down from the ledge, do you jump? When others play Russian roulette with one bullet, do you use five? “Risk” isn’t in a thought leader’s vocabulary.

BBH China lobby: thought leaders aplenty.

In kindergarten, did you bring a live snake or other such shocking items to show & tell?
Thoughts leaders are born, not made; they are already thinking outside the box right out of the womb. If you are a thought leader, you’ve always been a thought leader.

Are you Alex Bogusky?
Unless you are, you are not. Those big biceps. Those bigger concepts. Lead me, Dreamy Idea Man. I will follow you to Thoughtopia.


Do you sit on at least a dozen daises per year?
Let’s face it: There are amateur dais-sitters, and then there are professional dais-sitters. You pretend thought leaders know who you are, and you should be ashamed of yourselves. Get down off that dais immediately.

Photo from NYC Advertising Week 2015.

Is your TEDx Talk less than a minute?
For the uninformed, TEDx Talks are TED Talks that last 18 minutes or less. At this point, everybody and their cat has given a TED Talk, and most of them went much like the following. But you, thought leader, your talk is so pithy and on point that the audience doesn’t take notes; they just sit there with their mouths agape, drooling, weeping.

Do you actually continually create 100 percent truly original concepts?
You don’t hack or mash-up or disrupt or redesign or reimagine. You are a pure idea person.

Lastly, does it say “thought leader” in your Twitter bio?
Everybody who calls himself a thought leader” isn’t and never will be one. If you are one of the thousands of entrepreneurs, mavens, gurus, unicorns or whisperers who have written “thought leader” in their Twitter bio, delete it immediately, you fraudster.

More in Marketing

Why the ad industry still isn’t ready for Google to remove third-party cookies in Chrome

Digiday Programmatic Marketing Summit attendees speak out on why they rate the overall industry’s post-cookie readiness so low and what it’ll take to raise it.

Digiday+ Research: Brands spend more on Amazon as its importance to their holiday marketing spikes

Retail advertising is poised to have its moment, and brands and retailers are upping their marketing spend on Amazon and making the channel a more important part of their holiday plans this year.

roblox logo on money

Why a top Fortnite Creative studio sees opportunity in Roblox

For Atlas Creative, expanding into Roblox is not solely a play to scale up. The company believes there are concrete benefits that will come with having a hand in multiple metaverse platforms.