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  • Writer's pictureBrian Castle

What Is Thought Leadership?

The Parklife Guide to SMB Thought Leadership, Part 1: What Is Thought Leadership?

Through the years, we’ve been blessed to work with bright, innovative entrepreneurs and executives who span dozens of industries, ranging from manufacturing and financial technology to legal services, mergers and acquisitions, residential cleaning, industrial design and innovation management, digital marketing, leadership development, and much more. And through this work, we’ve developed a formidable thought leadership practice based on collaboration and finding the right avenues of expression for each person’s strengths.

What Is a Thought Leader?

The thought leadership space, while appearing murky to some, is actually quite well-defined. As a thought leader, you’re recognized as one of the go-to people in your field, no matter what your field is. The concept has its origins in a pair of industries—technology and healthcare—that make thought leadership seem less approachable to some. But despite its perceived elitist origins, thought leadership transcends not only industry, but also the size of a person’s business endeavors.

As such, thought leadership is no longer limited to the tech innovators and TEDTalk types, nor is it simply a term applied to doctors of global renown. This democratization of thought leadership—its rather universal application across professions—is due to the lower barriers of entry, provided by social and other digital media, to getting your message in front of targeted audiences. The tools for exerting thought leadership in a given profession are out there for everyone’s taking.

What’s your message? Often, it’s innovation, original thinking, or the application of a novel thought process in your professional pursuits. There’s a common misconception, however, that all of your ideas have to be original. Some rise to thought leadership through a combination of their originality and their ability to apply the ideas of others, curating the entire lot to produce something of their own (always with proper attribution to the ingredients others give to their winning recipes). We often think of this dynamic as akin to hip-hop music, where artists overlay their own original work with samples of the iconic, striking work of others to create something new and inspiring.

The Two Pillars of Thought Leadership

There are two well-defined pillars of influence/thought leadership, and you must execute on both fronts to qualify as a thought leader.

First, you must be “doing the work.” Second, you must communicate what you are doing and your underpinning thoughts with regard to that work, to a wider audience. You can’t be a thought leader in medicine, for example, without treating patients and/or conducting medical research. Nor can you be one without writing and/or speaking, whether it’s in peer-reviewed medical journals, WebMD, a keynote at the annual meeting of the American Cancer Society, or an interview on CNN.

It’s about doing innovative work that pushes your industry forward and easily reflects a thought process. Thus, being a thought leader means being an agent of progress. It’s also about communicating with others about your work in a way that shapes your professional space.

If you have the communication without the actual practice or research, you’re merely an empty suit. If you’re doing the work in the field, but you fail to communicate about it, you’re not a thought leader, but you can still be very good at what you do (an honorable pursuit in and of itself).

We love working with entrepreneurs and executives who are looking to add thought leadership activities to their marketing mix, in order to achieve their business and career goals. Our team can craft a plan that plays to your strengths and help you execute efficiently. From a value perspective, this is some of the most important work we do. Contact us today at to get started on your path to thought leadership.

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