I am starting to wonder if thought leadership is morphing into an entirely new terminology in this digital age -- content provider. Lately it seems that people who consider themselves thought leaders, like myself perhaps, are now being confused with content providers. This latter term seems to carry even greater cache because it falls into the digital realm. I was recently mentioning this dichotomy to a friend at Forbes who writes a column on thought leadership and we came to the conclusion that anyone can be deemed a content provider but not everyone can be called a thought leader. Most people on Twitter or Facebook provide content of sorts but it is not always unique or new or truly awe-inspiring. Many times it is a rehash of what is in the news. Here is my definition of thought leadership from my first book. “Thought leadership encompasses the development of new ideas – ideas that keep a company at the forefront of change. It can transcend sectors and geographic borders. What is perhaps most significant about thought leadership is that it distinguishes and differentiates a company from its competitors. Thought leadership often breaks with business or industry convention, astonishes if not startles. Thought leadership reflects on the company and builds reputation.”
There seems to be a continuum where simple chatter is at one pole of the continuum and true thought leadership at the other end. I would not pretend to know who would be those "genius" thought leaders but Malcolm Gladwell came to mind easily and he might be placed somewhere in the middle of original and genius. Those true thought leaders come up with thoughts that are so groundbreaking that everyone goes AHHHHHH.
chatter--->content provider--->thought leader--->original--->genius
It is hard to say what this all adds up to but the reputation of thought leadership as well as content provider needs better definition. Just providing content (even if it is more than what is contained in a press release) is different than providing new thinking that leads people to think twice or act differently or even possibly change lives. Something to ponder.