Human Resources Thought Leaders

Just what does that mean, anyway?

I bring this up (as a diversion from tool reviews, to which we shall return shortly) in response to something said to me at my “day job.”  The short version is they are pleased to be able to associate with my online self, seeing me as an HR Thought Leader that they can claim as one of theirs.

I’m not opposed to the flattery, of course, though I would never label myself as such.  But it does make me wonder what, exactly, qualifies one for such a lofty title.  From looking around, I see a few common traits to those who have been referred to with this tag:

Blogger.  At least occasionally.

Speaker. On the schedule at events, or at least at one event.  And if they make the list for one, they are not likely to let you forget any time real soon.

Writer. Or professing to be one.  May overlap with blog.

Owner.  Of business cards that they designed.  Usually contains all of these words, plus web addresses for homepage, Facebook, Twitter,, LinkedIn, and whatever new site is in vogue.

That seems about it.  I exclude originality or relevance from these categories because there are far too many people who wear the mantle without really contributing to the education or advancement of our practice.  There are those out there who simply rehash the same tired cliches or angst ridden diatribes over and again.

There are, of course, some actual thought leaders out there as well, and we should cherish them.  But that only works if we push each other to do better.  Thought leaders should lead.  Or, at the very least, have thoughts.

It shouldn’t be easy to earn the title of thought leader.  It should also not be given out freely, and revoked as needed.

Our community and our profession deserves it.


  1. Wanna know what I think? You are on to something here.

  2. Dwane – This is brilliant !! I love the simplicity of it and how you have exposed the core of an unfortunate catch phrase in our profession. Well done my friend !!

    • Thanks, Steve. I see for a lot of people in and out of HR who get the label and can’t help but wonder why. Of course, there are some people who make it clear that they deserve it.

  3. Hey Dwane,

    As the saying goes: One man’s trash is another man’s thought leader, right? I think it changes based on many things: context, profession, perspective…

    But that’s an easy out.

    I do think there are some commonalities. For one, producing something is a big part of it (whether it be writing, speaking, radio, TV). An investment of time is also an important one. Particularly insightful knowledge and willing to buck emerging trends or embrace ideas that aren’t in the norm yet.

    I’m still very uncomfortable with the title but I’ve got used to the idea that, at least in some areas, I could be considered a leader. And also realizing that certain venues, whether it be a publication, conference, associates or media program, are going to push that thought leader title because it is also in their best interests as well.

    • Lance –

      Thanks for reading and sharing. What really struck me from that was “particularly insightful knowledge and willing to buck emerging trends or embrace ideas that aren’t in the norm yet. ”

      I think you are spot on with this. I don’t think it has to be a new idea every day, of course, but I think it’s fair to say someone who either accepts, wears or, at worst, pursues the “thought leader” title should be producing new ideas or viewpoints.

  4. True “thought leaders” don’t care about the label. They just do what they do in order to (hopefully) provide value to others. They are the ones who are not afraid to say what they think, even if it goes against conventional thought, process or procedure. These are the people I admire.

    Nice job.

    • Thanks, Trish. I’m always pleased to see people who speak up against conventional wisdom, rather than speaking just to make noise.

      Thanks for reading and sharing!


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