My jaws clench when I hear the term “thought leadership.” Promiscuous, the term makes me think of grandiose, otiose and comatose.
Grandiose because we all stand on the shoulders of giants, everything has been thought of or said before, and modesty goes a long way. Otiose because thought leadership conveys ivory tower, sounds-great-but-will-it-work, hoary platitudes, and castles in the air. Comatose because we arel bombarded with such hyperbole? Does every consultant who pontificates, every vendor touting a “unique value proposition,” every software provider who offers a “revolutionary solution” deserve to prance around as a thought leader? It is a flagrant cliché.
Don’t misunderstand me, innovation makes the economy move. Good ideas, progressive thinking, and speaking out with insight stand in very short supply so it all sits well with us. If genuine and deserved. To be prominent and correctly ahead of the crowd deserves praise. It is the depreciation of that worthy and exceptional contribution that pains me.
In-house lawyers may develop an impression that a given firm has in a particular practice area experienced, thoughtful and creative partners, but “thought leadership” gets splashed around too glibly. If you create poison pills (Wachtell, Lipton), nurture and promote the best litigation survey (Fulbright & Jaworski), promote project management (Eversheds), beat the drums loud and long for fixed fees (Bartlett, Beck), plunge into Six Sigma (Seyfarth Shaw) or otherwise earn favorable recognition as a lead dog of the thinkers’ pack, it cheapens the hard work for many others to bandy about their own “thought leadership.”
“Thought leadership” too often wafts the odor of marketing or self-promotion. That coin has been deeply debased.