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The Profession of Thought Leadership

I want to talk about the profession of thought leadership.
Something that only exists as an emerging idea.💡
Over the past years, organizations have hired
*thousands* of people into thought leadership roles.
I’ve met and spoken with many of you.
And had some of you as guests on the podcast 🎙️!

So what is a thought leadership professional?
Well, being a professional means more than just
doing the same job every day 📅.
That routine work is just table stakes.

I recently came across a framework for professionalism
from Samuel P. Huntington’s 1957 book
“The Soldier and the State.” that got me thinking
pretty deeply about professionalism.

And I want to share it here.

In Huntington’s framework:

1. You represent the profession to the decision maker.
2. When there’s a course of action, you provide a probability of success and estimated costs.

Right now, if you ask a dozen heads of thought leadership about a plan, you’ll likely get wildly different answers—

🤷🏽‍♂️ different definitions of success
🤷different probabilities of success
.🤷🏽‍♀️different estimates of cost

And so thought leadership isn’t a profession yet.

But it’s starting to move that way.

To move further, the field needs to:

1. Define specific duties (standard roles and job descriptions would be a great start).
2. Establish shared bodies of knowledge (which can be nurtured through education, mentorship, and experience).
3. Start thinking about how we prepare the next generation of thought leadership professionals.

The longer I’m in this field of thought leadership—the more important these issues become to me.

Some days, I feel like thought leadership today
is what accounting was like during Renaissance Venice.
Every house doing things its own way.

We can do better than that.
If thought leadership is about taking ideas to scale.
Then we should clean up our own house.
And show a coherent, effective profession
to our colleagues who work in other fields.

I’m proud to practice thought leadership.
But there’s work to be done.
And I’m here for it.

What would you add to the list?
What would make thought leadership more professional
internally and in the eyes of others?

I write about
#ThoughtLeadership #OrgTL #Marketing and #Brand

* Samuel Huntington’s “The Soldier and the State” talks about the professionalization of a military’s officer corps. So it’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s a really good framework and analysis.