A thought leader is a term that I heard a lot when I first started swimming around in the social media pool. But I had no idea what it really meant. My first experience with a definition of the term was on the Klout style chart — I think I started in the explorer category. Klout defines a thought leader as “Your followers rely on you, not only to share the relevant news, but to give your opinion on the issues. People look to you to help them understand the day’s developments. You understand what’s important and what your audience values.”

So my theory at this point was that moving to that category would mean that I would be a thought leader (naive, I know!) but now that I have been in that category for quite sometime. I can tell you that does not define you. Nor should you be fooled into thinking that any Klout category or score quantifies you. However, it is nice to know that according to the current algorithms, my audience may view my social media presence as valuable enough to share; or at least they like to talk to me. Hooray!

To me, a true thought leader is someone who is leading by example and putting into practice all the things that they tweet, post and write about on a daily basis. Leading by example while taking risks in their positions is crucial. It is not someone just talking online, it is much more than that. For me, I will never stop asking questions. My friends can attest to this, as I am fascinated with life and what other people are contemplating.

The biggest blessing in social media has been being able to interact with people whom I respect and learn from daily. “Thought leader” is a subjective term. We will all look up to and learn from different sources, have varied experiences and process them internally and externally based on our mood, past life experiences, etc. The willingness to expand, evolve and grow as a person is very important because it is from this position that you remain fresh in your own opinions and ideals. True thought leadership is based on clout not Klout. You have may have thought leaders whose books you read, some whose blogs you follow and some you talk to daily. Keep an open mind, ask questions and develop your own opinions.

While pondering this topic, I decided to ask some people who I respect and admire in their thought leadership about what they felt. A few people I consider to be thought leaders are: Mother Teresa, Mari Smith, Olivier Blanchard and the fabulous people below.

From Guy KawasakiFormer Chief Evangelist at Apple, Author of 12 Books including Enchantment; The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds & Actions.  You can find him on Google +.

“A thought leader is someone who creates something before people realize that they need it.”

“Best example, of course, is Steve Jobs. Richard Branson too.”

From Jay Baer: President, Convince & Convert, Co-Author, The NOW RevolutionConvince and Convert Blog and Social Media Keynote Speaker

“A thought leader is someone with proven expertise and experience who isn’t afraid to share it with the world without direct compensation. That combination isn’t a given. There are lots of experts out there who refuse to “open the kimono of knowledge.” That’s a shame. Conversely, there are lots of non-experts out there who share and publish like crazy unproven ideas and opinions of limited value and depth. That’s a bigger shame.”

“Thought leaders include Seth Godin, Avinish Kaushik, Bryan Eisenberg.”

From Jessica Northey: Social Mediologist, Social Media, Broadcasting, Country and Music Blogger/Journalist as well as a Nationally Recognized Speaker. Finger Candy Media

“A thought leader is true to themselves even when others might laugh, disagree or nay-say. They actually walk their talk. My grandpa used to always say ‘run your own race’ as well as things like, ‘drive three cars ahead of you’, and ‘second guessing instinct causes accidents.’  Looking back, I can see how he literally applied these sayings to life. Focus on the grooves in your track, the folks drafting you might not be chasing you at all. Matter of fact, they might not even notice you. Quit worrying about what everyone else is doing. Be yourself, everyone is taken.”

“Be an original, share your enthusiasm, educate yourself on your industry, make enough room for others, be open to criticism and don’t get short-sighted. There will be as many bad days as good days but as long as you never stop believing in your dream, you will get somewhere. The question is always where and can you live with the consequences of your actions? And remember the body you walk over today might be attached to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow. Try to tread lightly and remember other people are leading their own thoughts as well… who are you to judge them?”

“I look to people like Lee Abrams, Amanda Hite, Lori Lewis, Larry Pareigis and Carrie Wilkerson. They just get it and do it.”

From Dino Dogan:  Founder of http://triberr.comBlogger at DIY Blogger Net , #140 Conference Speaker & #unGeeked Discussion Leader. And, global force for badassery.

“The idea, and often the thought leader, receives a strong opposition. Galileo gets imprisoned for presenting the heliocentric view of the solar system — to continue with the same example. The idea gets small but strong support from the idea-believers.”

”The idea becomes accepted as common fact, usually too late for the thought leader.”

“It’s much safer to regurgitate already accepted ideas and present yourself as a thought leader. We call those people ‘experts’”.

“Who are my thought leaders? Who is doing extraordinary and forward-thinking things in this world?”

“Dalai Lama by way of Buddha.”

“Martin Luther King Jr. by way of Jesus.”

“Mahatma Gandhi by way of Buddha. There’s that Buddha again.”

“Professor Cornel West by way of Buddha and Jesus with a dash of Mohamed thrown in for good measure.”

“Albert Einstein and Nicola Tesla by way of Science.”

“While some of these folks are dead, their actions endure.

From Sam Fiorella: Chief Strategy Sensei at Sensei Marketing, Blogs at The Social Roadmap and Keynote speaker.

“Thought leaders do not become thought leaders by trying to be one; that’s an external focus that only satisfies the ego and blocks true enlightenment on any subject. A thought leader has a singular, internal focus on achieving mastery of a particular discipline.”

“I’d include: Chris Heuer, Jeff Wilson & Deb Weinstein as people who I look to as thought-leaders.”

From Paul BiedermannCreative Director/Owner at re:DESIGN, Media Editor at 12 Most, writer and speaker.

“Thought leaders have strong beliefs that are well-conceived and grounded in principles, but then also have the guts to put it all out there. With the added ability to articulate their ideas in a meaningful way, they move people to action and influence change.”

“Thought leaders are not afraid to go against the grain or the flavor of the month. As others are influenced, they evangelize and amplify how far and wide these ideas are spread, and determine the impact they have in the world. This is what pushes initiatives forward, mobilizes communities, revolutionizes industries, moves governments, and even shapes cultures. We are the better for them!”

“A few of the thought leaders I have admired include Steve Jobs, Bono, Sandra Day O’Connor and Norman Vincent Peale.”

Thank you so much to Guy, Jay, Jessica, Sam, Paul and Dino for sharing with me, and ultimately you, what their thoughts were on the subject.

Now it’s your turn, what do YOU think a thought leader is and who do you feels hits the mark for you? Looking forward to your comments.

Featured image courtesy  by elkit some rights reserved via Creative Commons.