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What Is A Thought Leader?

It’s a truism that thought leaders tend to be the most successful individuals or firms in their respective fields. Furthermore, in the research literature, there’s a consensus that being a thought leader, whether you’re an individual or employed at an organization and you want to grow the business or even an association seeking new members as well as more generous sponsors, being a thought leader can make a very significant and positive difference. 

When you think of the term thought leader, what comes to mind? With all the definitional dispersion around the phrase as a starting point, it’s usually very worthwhile to define what a thought leader is and, sometimes more importantly, what a thought leader is not. Bluntly, there are many definitions of the term. 

How we conceptualize and define thought leadership highlights and emphasizes the potential exponential rewards of being a thought leader. Based on decades of working with professionals, their firms and other types of organizations, we have a two-part definition of what constitutes a thought leader:

Definition—Part One

A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.

What we’re talking about in part one of the definition is “brilliance.” It’s essential to understand that brilliance doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it’s a waste of time to debate whether it’s authentic. Brilliance is a function of acclaim, created where others bestow the accolades. We now move to the second part of the definition, the commercial component:

Definition—Part Two

A thought leader is an individual or firm that significantly profits from being recognized as such.

People are in businesses to make money. Their objective, whether through products, services or both, is to do a top-notch job for their clients. Still, it’s fair to say they want to be well compensated to the extent possible. Being a thought leader is very much about making money.

Let’s consider a tax accounting firm that wants to become a thought leader. A new law comes out that will have a dramatic effect on how to address the depreciation of certain corporate assets. For the tax accounting firm to appear as a thought leader, the tax partners must do much more than merely regurgitate the new law. However, in most situations with professionals, simply repeating the basics tends to be the norm. 

To become a thought leader, the tax accounting firm needs to dive deep into the new law. The partners must determine just how the law will impact various companies. Furthermore, tax accountants must develop distinctive insights and actionable planning strategies based on the new law. There must be recommendations attached to the analysis that can benefit the impacted companies. The tax accounting firm must communicate that it’s the go-to expert concerning these distinctive insights and actionable strategies. As the go-to expert, the accounting firm will have structured the means to more effectively garner new clients and do more business with current clients, resulting in a larger bottom line. Being selectively renowned can be very rewarding, but wealth is also beneficial. 

To be a thought leader, any individual or organization must monetize their state-of-the-art thinking by increasing their ability to source, work with, and profit from their target markets. In effect, being a thought leader includes the ability to garner radically above-average returns for investment and effort.

Russ Alan Prince is the executive director of Private Wealth magazine and chief content officer for High-Net-Worth Genius. He consults with family offices, the wealthy, fast-tracking entrepreneurs and select professionals.


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