It was Joel Kurtzman who first used the term in 1994 to refer to interviewees whose business ideas deserved public attention. Kurtzman was an editor-in-chief of a business-related magazine called Booz Allen Hamilton. Eventually, the term became a label that characterized leaders regardless of their purpose and field. In fact, the term best describes those people or organizations that became very successful in their chosen fields.
Today, the consensus is that when you are considered as a thought leader you can make or have already made significant positive differences being one of the go-to persons in the field. In so doing, thought leaders are compensated highly, that is, if we are going to look at thought leadership’s commercial component. With this, we can consider thought leaders as those individuals or organizations that profit from being a thought leader.
For instance, let us take the case of an accounting firm specializing in tax laws. There is a new law regarding how to properly depreciate specific corporate assets. For this firm to become a thought leader, it must devise strategies, policies and techniques rather than just regurgitating such law. The firm needs to discuss with its partners and clients how such a law will impact the operations of the firm and their clients.
On the part of the tax accountants, if anyone of them wants to be a thought leader, he or she should develop distinct insights as well as actionable strategies surrounding the new law. He or she must make recommendations that will prove to be beneficial for the companies. The firm and its accountants must communicate to the public that it is currently the main "go-to firm" when it comes to understanding the accounting policies around depreciation. Using structured means to communicate this is critical for any thought leader. It is also crucial for the individual tax accountants and the entire accounting firm to monetize its thinking.
Thought Leadership is not as much about monetizing the ‘thinking'. That will happen in due course. If one is truly knowledgeable in a field and are open to sharing that expertise with others to help them grow- it is but natural, that sooner or later, such a thought leader is bound to be very successful (financially speaking). Being a 'Thought Leader' is really about making a cutting edge difference in your field of expertise- by bringing your own special-touch to the common knowledge, sharing it with others and in the process- setting new rules and methods of working. It's not without reason that many thought-leaders have become game changers in their field and made history.