It actually bothers me when people claim to be “thought leaders”. As far as I am concerned, the term refers to those who use their brains to create something novel, something new. Thought Leaders are the ones that give us new theory or that can make generalisations about the obvious that helps explain things. They expand the forefront of contemporary thinking.
Thought leaders aren’t people who regurgitate interesting industry trends (though if they are the ones that spotted the trend in the first place, they are probably a thought leader).
Thought leaders aren’t industry analysts (such as Gartner and Forrester) who are little more than branded reporters of what everyone else is thinking. (I know we disagree on this Ron).
And usually, being a vendor means you automatically lose the right to call yourself a thought leader. If you sell commodity products or services, you’ve already proved a lack of thought leadership, because otherwise your wares wouldn’t be commodity. Your ability to create something new and novel would make sure you had differentiation of some kind.
True thought leaders are pretty rare, but extremely visible. People with novel and new things to say actually say them. That’s why I loved the post that Colin Henderson wrote the other day about blogging and the new A-List. All the people on his list of blogs are thought leaders that I read.
They have demonstrated their credentials.
On the other hand, when someone shows up here asking for a meeting because they are a “thought leader” (you wouldn’t believe how often this happens), I shall be rejecting outright if I can’t validate the claim in advance.
I don’t think this is unreasonable. And, naturally, real thought leaders are always welcome here with or without notice.