Thought Leadership #1: What Does It Mean? by Dave Gardner of Thank God It’s Monday


ne of the great joys of having friends who are not only super-smart but also write well, is that I get to invite them to craft articles for this new “thought leadership” section of my website.

Why labor over an introductory article myself when I can get someone like Fast Company Expert Blogger, Dave Gardner, to write one for me?

So here it is. If you’ve ever wondered what they heck people mean when they talk about “thought leadership,” here’s Dave’s take. I’m not always going to agree with what my guests share about this topic (says the author of the forthcoming #Thought Leadership Tweet book, to be published later this spring), but in the spirit of free and open exchange, I’m delighted to invite these experts to voice their perspectives.

Dave Gardner

Over to you, Dave:

I was recently contacted by a company needing help with a business transformation.  The gentleman who contacted me said he had studied my websites, read my blogs and articles and concluded that I was a “thought leader” in the space he needs help with. There are two things that I loved about his email:

1. He said he concluded I am thought leader—something a management consultant like myself aspires to, and,

2. He wanted to speak to me about getting my help—what I want people to conclude when they read things I’ve written.

Being considered a thought leader is the gold standard for professionals.  Who are some well-known thought leaders?

  •        Marshall Goldsmith: coaching
  •        Jay Abraham: direct marketing
  •        Alan Weiss: solo consulting
  •        Peter Drucker: management
  •        Meg Wheatley: innovative leadership
  •        Rajesh Setty: entrepreneur, author, speaker, alchemist, on entrepreneurship and innovation
  •        Seth Godin: entrepreneur, speaker, author, innovative thinker,
  •        Steve Jobs: creating technology products the marketplace loves

© Ramesh Chinnasamy |

The “thought leader” designation is used by others to describe a person of stature and repute; an individual realistically can’t declare themselves to be a “thought leader,” though some try. It is certainly acceptable to tell others that others consider you to be a thought leader but that is best handled via testimonials or other written forms.

So, how does one become a thought leader?

You need:

  •        A track record of success
  •        Published articles or blog posts in third-party publications
  •        A book —and commercially-published books are still considered the gold standard
  •        To be invited to speak
  •        A willingness to help others
  •        Testimonials
  •        To be seen as the “go-to” person in a subject area
  •        To be quoted in books, articles, blog posts, etc.

A few months ago, Liz contacted me rather excitedly to let me know that I’d been quoted not once, but twice, in a recently published book, The Customer Experience Edge. I had no idea this was going to happen. I was quite honored.  When others quote you, it indicates you have something to say that they value.  Some might call this “thought leadership.”

To my list, Alan Weiss—my mentor—offers the following from his Thought Leadership Symposium:

  •        Create metaphors and examples used by others
  •        Constantly create new Intellectual Property (IP)
  •        Tend to be public figures who are easy to find and often written about
  •        Are known by virtually every professional in their industry, favorably or unfavorably
  •        Have others who attribute their success to them

Is a business leader a thought leader?  While it is certainly possible, thought leaders are known more for how they observe the world and how interactions occur in the world than a business leader whose mission is generally around strategy and business execution.

To be considered a thought leader is to be in rarified air.  The actions you take and the value you add can certainly directionally move you into consideration for being a thought leader.  But, it takes work and time.  The lists above provide food for thought for what actions need to be taken to become perceived as a thought leader.

So, am I a thought leader? It depends on who you talk to.  If you ask the right people, some might say “yes.” Others might say, “Who?”

It is something I aspire to constantly. Becoming a thought leader is a journey, not a destination.

So – what do you think? Please leave your comments below.

Dave Gardner is a management consultant, speaker and author based in Silicon Valley.  He’s been helping companies with configurable products and services with strategy and implementation for over 30 years. He holds a BA from San Jose State University and an MBA from Santa Clara University.  He’s the author of “Mass Customization: An Enterprise-Wide Business Strategy.”  Dave is a Fast Company Expert Blogger and a member of Dell’s Customer Advisory Panel. He can be reached through his website at or via Twitter @Gardner_Dave

LATEST UPDATE:  Dave was named as one of 8 “must read” business leadership bloggers by Business Insider. Read that article here.




  1. You guys did a great job spending your time to create this article! If I had to explain my emotions about your website in only one word ? it would be WOW! Thank you! P.S. Subscribed for updates!

  2. Would you mind if I published this post on my website? I would give you credit and a link back to your blog. Appreciate it, and please let me know here, or email me!

  3. Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is an extremely well written article. I will make sure to bookmark it and return to read more of Thought Leadership #1: What Does It Mean? by Dave Gardner of Thank God It’s Monday @ Dr. Liz Alexander . Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely return.

  4. Thought Leadership #1: What Does It Mean? by Dave Gardner of Thank God It’s Monday | Dr. Liz Alexander Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again very soon!

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