@MarDixon Passionate about culture internationally. Run remixing events, workshops, create solutions, and an international speaker. Over sharer and Mom who loses arguments to a teen. Projects created: @CultureThemes @lovetheatreday @AskaCurator @MuseumSelfieDay @TeensInMuseums @52museums
  • Discussion: What is a Thought Leader and/or Cultural Leader?

    September 14th, 2014mardixonCulture, International

    This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately for different reasons.  Without prejudice or background on why I was asking, I tweeted:

    What is a Thought Leader and or Cultural Leader? Seriously, I’m trying to figure out what it means and who decides who they are.

    keepyourcoinsIt has been an interesting discussion/debate.  It seems to be a term used and known but no real clear definition or role description. But yet we as a society continue to label people as Thought Leaders and Cultural Leaders without really knowing what it means.  I don’t know about you, but this interest and confuses me.  To be fair, it is not just culture that has this issue.  This issue could be said with tech, education, publishing, etc. 

    So far I’ve surmised Thought Leader

    • Be an Extrovert
    • Be radical
    • Write (prove your understanding and knowledge on topics): @EmmaMBearman
      it’s a rare breed who make the decision to create the time and space away from the authentic ‘doing’ to reflect regularly
    • Do
    • Community led – let the community decide you’re leader.
    • Translator (of ideas) – @aladytraveller: value people who manage to capture ideas that are floating around and articulate them, generate debate.
    • Creative (?)
    • Popular

    Why am I asking:

    This term seems to be thrown out there more and more today.  And yes, even towards me and my response when I’m called a Thought Leader is ‘What does that mean?’  If it means pain in the butt, troublemaker/advocate, yapping dog who is stubborn, that isn’t afraid to keep asking questions until I understand enough to share, then yes. Yes I am.  If it means I feel my thoughts are more important or precious than others, then no.

    That alone wasn’t the cause for the question today.  In the past week, I’ve seen several profiles that have people who self-labelled themselves as ‘Thought Leaders’.  Now I’m happy that people are confident but if it is a self-labelled title?  Or as @librarykris indicates, more a community led position?


    Credit: @Louiestowell

    Credit: @Louiestowell

    I’m still working on this part but will update when I absorb what was shared.  At this point, I’m still curious about the role and title.  I did find it interesting that it was assumed or implied I meant political or managerial positions originally.

    • If Thought Leader isn’t the right terminology, what is?  
    • Are labels needed?  
    • Isn’t doing enough?

    It used to be (and perhaps still is) important that ‘leaders’ publish papers to reflect their high level thinking.  In this citizen-led society of sharing (science, journalism, etc), is it time we move on from post-war standards of leadership and look at new ways to embrace new thinking?

    I’ve Storify the whole conversation but these are the main points (so far):

    @NickSherrard‬ kicks things off with:

    Neither term infers anyone is leading anybody anywhere good. Just that they are willing to get up on stage. This is the issue.

    @janetedavis‬ Used to see articles about people who were influential, now we see articles about Thought or Cultural Leaders.

    ‪@EmmaMBearman‬ I have thoughts about the power of the story tellers in this…so many activists who are real leaders who don’t have time to blog!

    @janetedavis ‪Writers of articles – & sometimes they ask other people who they think the leaders are…

    ‪@CarlDurose‬ Has no one noticed how Orwellian ‘thought leader’ sounds?

    @NickSherrard Cultural sector could do with some bold, radical thinkers on those stages

    @EmmaMBearman‬ I’d quite like people to ask questions & plant seeds that help me wonder, reflect & adapt

    ‪@jaclong‬ Case study: ‘failed’ political ideologies. Plenty of leaders there 😉

    @MarDixon‬ Are Thought Leaders (or Cultural Leaders) self-labled titles? We have no clear leaders, do we? Maybe micro-leaders in different areas?

    Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 10.37.30

    This was one of the best explanations:

    Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 10.41.36

     And from Charlotte Sexton on Facebook

    Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 19.38.54

    Just a Sunday Morning Friendly Question. 

     Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 11.18.47

    Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 12.28.34


    In the afternoon, the conversation continued.  I’m trying to Storify to share. 

    Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 19.32.45


    Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 19.35.40

    Also, please see

    @etiennelefleur: Time arts & culture put class back on their agendas? 


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2 responses to “Discussion: What is a Thought Leader and/or Cultural Leader?” RSS icon

  • Yikes. What an interesting topic to explore! I agree with the main assessments here (so let’s add one more to the sample size!):

    I think they are different, but I think both are leaders (hence, use of the word “leader”) in that they possess the kind of capital wherein they are have the social and symbolic “weight”/reputation to be a trusted resource to open folks’ minds to new ideas that aid in evolution of industries (thought leader) or operate in a respected manner within the culture industry (cultural leader).

    I don’t actually think either is a matter of “follower” number exactly. I wonder if it’s softer – like a role model, mentor, or a most trusted colleague, perhaps. Someone that others want to emulate or gather information from. I think respect and trust (or at the very least, third party endorsements by people with high imitative values or expertise) play key roles in determining if someone is a thought leader or cultural leader.

    This is an interesting discussion and I hope that it continues. Thanks for bringing it to life, Mar!

  • Yes interesting. I’ll take thought leadership for focus — cultural leadership is probably taking on even bigger context and weaving together larger themes. I think true thought leadership requires an ability to synthesis insights –spoken, written, art — both within the community and for a larger cultural context. It means crystalizing themes. Themes, I would argue, are considered crystalized when a result resonates as true with the collective thought of the group and perhaps taps into themes that can resonate and be communicated to a larger community as well. It means an ability to look at and at least acknowledge the bitter as well as the sweet. An ability to be a critical thinker. I always look for someone who has done the heavy lifting, wading through perhaps a history of the community and the work of other thinkers as well as the utterances and insights from the ‘just’ leaders, to help me get my arms around concepts. This is a good place to start my own critical thinking. Absorbing the communication of those considered thought leaders frequently directs me to other thinkers in the community and can save hours trying to crystalize my own thoughts wading through the first (and probably healthy for a first step) inevitable biases — leadership without the ‘thought’ would simply be more focused on a singular tap into a community needed theme and an ability to motivate people to action. Some leaders are thought leaders too — philosopher kings. There would be a continuum on the quality of thought leaders. I think the hard work of synthesis, is always a plus regardless of where a thought leader fits on the continuum.

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