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Thought leadership: a radical departure from traditional, positional leadership

Mitch McCrimmon (Self Renewal Group, Riseley, UK)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 1 August 2005




The purpose of this paper is to explain thought leadership and show how it compares with its positional counterpart.


The objective is achieved through a conceptual comparison of thought leadership with conventional positional leadership to show that the latter contains managerial elements or overtones that are lacking in thought leadership which is simply the championing of new directions.


Thought leadership is the championing of new ideas rather than anything to do with managing people or helping a group achieve a goal. It can be directed upwards and ends once senior managers accept the proposed ideas. Such leadership cannot be defined in terms of enabling or managing a team to achieve a task, because those who show upwards leadership normally do not manage their superiors.

Practical implications

Regardless of how important it is for knowledge workers to be self‐managing, my claim is that thought leadership must be cultivated as the key form of distributed leadership in any organization that depends on continuous improvement and constant innovation to prosper. The practical implication is that managers need to move beyond simply empowering employees to manage themselves and start fostering bottom up leadership conceived as championing new ideas.


Highlights a type of leadership that is widely distributed throughout all organizations that compete on the basis of innovation or wherever all employees need to be initiating process improvements. Thought leadership is very different from what is commonly conceived as distributed leadership, such as “shared leadership” or “leaderful” behavior both of which are based on the usual mixture of management and leadership ideas whereby the person in charge of a group, formally or otherwise, both initiates new directions and manages their implementation.



McCrimmon, M. (2005), "Thought leadership: a radical departure from traditional, positional leadership", Management Decision, Vol. 43 No. 7/8, pp. 1064-1070.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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