“Thought Leader” is a coveted descriptor for anyone relying on a reputation of expertise or authority in a given field of endeavor. The first individual known to have been described this way was Ralph Waldo Emerson who, in 1876, was said to have possessed “the wizard power of a thought-leader.”
More recently, high tech and consulting firms lay claim to the “thought leader” label as shapers of opinion and strategy. While as business jargon, the term might win you a round at buzzword bingo, it still has ample value: there really are trusted sources who promote the ideas that move zeitgeist forward. These are the same mavens that Malcom Gladwell was telling us about.