How To Tell What Is ‘Thought Leadership’ – And What Isn’t

June 27, 2023

Nigel Girling

Head of Professional Qualifications

Let’s face it – there’s a lot of information out there. Estimates by data scientists in 2023 suggest that 328.77 million terabytes of information are created every day. That equates to 120 zettabytes this year. I had to look up ‘zettabyte’ and probably now so will you

The speed at which this is increasing is frankly even more staggering. Since as recently as 2015 the total has grown by eight times. It’s expected to grow another 50% in the next 18 months. More than 8,000 pictures are shared on Snapchat every second. That’s half a million every minute and 30 million every hour.

Information bombards you on websites, in articles, on social media, in magazines and even on your own PC, laptop or phone. But what are you supposed to do with it?

If you’re a leader, or aspiring to become one, you might look at some of the stuff specific to business and leadership and wonder. Does it represent the latest thinking? Is it reliable and likely to be true? Is it something you really need to explore and understand?  Is the author credible and someone worth listening to and perhaps believing?

This short piece seeks to help you find your way through this forest of vested interests, nonsense, armchair experts and sensationalism to get to the bits that might actually help you.

Let’s start by sorting the good from the bad – and the ugly. Broadly, you can sort a lot of what you see into a series of three ‘buckets’. You can even do this literally, if you feel so inclined and have a lot of buckets around the place. You’ll just have to print it all out. On second thoughts, don’t do that. We need the trees. Anyway, of the three, thought-leadership is the one most likely to help you.

So, back to the buckets. A quick set of descriptions and criteria:

Bucket 1: Academic research & papers Bucket 2: Opinion and commentary Bucket 3: Thought leadership
1. Often the output of some form of study or experiment 1.     Is the author credible, expert & authoritative? 1. Is it current and likely to be ‘latest thinking’?
2. Often written to enable the writer to get ‘published’ and protect their funding 2.     Is the piece written from the point of view of a vested interest? 2. Does the author have the credibility, expertise or authority to be a ‘thought-leader’?
3. Probably scientifically valid – at least up to a point 3.     What’s the evidence basis of the views expressed? 3. What’s the evidence basis of the views expressed?
4. Unlikely to tell you the answer to any question you might really ask 4.     Is it objective and free from bias? 4. Is it objective and free from bias?
5. The sample size might be too small to generate any real certainty about the results 5.     Is it conclusive – that is, can you draw any conclusions from it, or is it just more noise? 5. Is it conclusive – that is, can you learn anything from it, or is it just more noise?
6. Is the institution a credible specialist in the field? 6.     What is the purpose of the piece – provocation, exploration, sensation? 6. Is the institution a credible specialist in the field?

At this point, it would be wise to apply the test developed by Professor Richard Paul, very much the godfather of critical thinking, and examine the information for:

  • Clarity,
  • Accuracy,
  • Precision,
  • Relevance and,
  • Depth.

If it passes that test, follow it up with this one:

  • Breadth,
  • Logic,
  • Significance,
  • Fairness, and
  • Sufficiency.

Wherever possible – aim for bucket 3 and a credible, experienced view.

It doesn’t mean that something which fails the tests at any point is entirely worthless or even a lie – but it does warn you to be careful in how you view that information. A provocative article that is actually just a rant might still be useful if it encourages you to reflect and formulate your own views!

But aim for the thought-leadership pieces first and above all. That’s where the intelligent synthesis of a wealth of thinking, understanding and experience is most likely to be found.

Related articles

a photo of a purpose-driven leader embracing the rest of their team

What is a Purpose-Driven Leader and Why Should You Become One?

Purpose-driven leadership aligns an organization’s mission with a higher purpose, fostering engagement, innovation, and resilience. This blog explores defining purpose, aligning values with goals, enhancing emotional intelligence, cultivating culture, and measuring impact, guiding leaders on their journey to inspire and drive meaningful change.

Image showing a double exposure of a person and an office building with the words The Future of Leadership

The Future of Leadership in 2024

Part 1: Talent Wars Attracting and retaining good people used to be fairly simple. You advertised a job, paid a reasonable wage and loads of people applied. You short-listed, interviewed and then picked the best one. Easy life. But not a life familiar to most...

Contact Us

IDG UK
IDG House Royal Berkshire Hotel London Road Ascot SL5 0PP UK
+44 (0) 207 798 2848

IDG India
301, Tower 2, Montreal Business Center Baner Road Pune 411045 India
+91 955 271 5800

IDG Middle East
5th Floor One Business Centre DMCC, Jumeirah Lake Towers, Dubai UAE
+44 (0) 1276 686644

IDG UK
IDG House Royal Berkshire Hotel London Road Ascot SL5 0PP UK
+44 (0) 207 798 2848

IDG India
301, Tower 2, Montreal Business Center Baner Road Pune 411045 India
+91 955 271 5800

IDG Middle East
5th Floor One Business Centre DMCC, Jumeirah Lake Towers, Dubai UAE
+44 (0) 1276 686644