~ 13 MIN READ
The Top 30 Business Thought Leaders To Follow
PUBLISHED Jul 16, 2020
Discover new business thought leaders who are revolutionizing strategy, leadership, and innovation.
In my more than 20 years in strategy and management reporting, I’ve come to realize that getting an organization from Point A (where it is now) to Point B (where it hopes to be in the future) requires a set of skills that go far beyond planning alone. There are a number of other important aspects critical to the strategic planning and execution process that call for insights which can only be honed through experience.
Strategy Thought Leadership
While personal experience is valuable, seeking out other people’s perspectives and ideas may inspire you to approach the strategy process differently. There are many business thought leaders today who have expert insights on the very elements that impact the success of strategic planning and execution, specifically:
- Strong communication
A lot of companies craft a strategy, but once it’s done, they tuck it away in a binder and put it on a shelf. Writing a strategy is only step one; you may have a clear vision of what you’re trying to accomplish, but if you can’t convey it to your team, it will be almost impossible to carry out. So step two is to unite everyone’s efforts by communicating the strategy to the rest of your organization (beyond just the strategy team), clearly explaining what everyone is working toward and how they should be doing it.
Communication is a two-way street, and just as important as spreading the word about your strategy is listening to feedback about it. According to business thought leader Melissa Daimler, listening with the intent to understand is a challenging skill to master—not everyone is equally inclined to be attentive and open-minded. The best CEOs and business leaders take time to seek out employee feedback and are willing to make changes to the strategy if necessary to strengthen it.
The ability of leaders to inspire and motivate their employees to want to take action is critical to strategy execution. Your team needs to be aligned and on-board with your strategic objectives and goals to be successful. But building a positive, strategy-friendly culture takes skill and effort. Make sure your employees know what they need to do and have what they need to succeed. Encourage people to pay attention to the strategy on a daily basis by creating incentives that are aligned with results.
- Performance management
Performance management is an ongoing process that ensures the organization stays continuously on track to achieve its goals. Implementing projects, tracking progress toward your objectives, and conducting regular performance reviews are crucial activities for realizing strategic goals. And pulling it all off requires detail-oriented individuals who excel at communication and collaboration.
Whether or not your organization’s ranks are filled with veteran CEOs, strategy planners, and managers, you can benefit from the insights of thought leaders in business, who often have unique points of view about issues relevant to strategy planning and execution. The 30 men and women listed below (ranked alphabetically by last name) represent a mix of business and strategy thought leaders, many of whom I follow for advice myself. We’ve summed up their credentials, and included a quote from each that we felt was relevant to strategy planning and execution. If you follow these people, I’m confident you'll pick up some valuable advice that will help you plan a smarter strategy—and make it stick.
Top 30 Business Thought Leaders
1. Teresa M. Amabile
Teresa Amabile is a Director of Research and Professor of Business Administration at Harvard. She studies how routine activities within an organization influence employee performance. Her latest book, “The Progress Principle,” teaches managers how to build up morale, engagement, creativity, and productivity within a team. She has presented her research-driven theories in public and private forums around the world, and implements her research and practices in major corporations.
“As a senior executive, you may think you know what Job Number 1 is: developing a killer strategy. In fact, this is only Job 1a. You have a second, equally important task. Call it Job 1b: enabling the ongoing engagement and everyday progress of the people in the trenches of your organization who strive to execute that strategy.”
2. Bob Burg
Bob Burg is a well-known speaker, author, and business thought leader who focuses on sales. His first book, “Endless Referrals,” was published in 1993 (and is now in its third edition). Endless Referrals focuses on the importance and power behind building relationships. Pinned at the top of Burg’s Twitter feed is a tweet that reads, “The single greatest ‘people skill’ is a highly developed & authentic interest in the *other* person.” His latest book series (including “The Go-Giver,” a parable-style tale) places emphasis on (surprise!) giving rather than getting. If you’re in a sales-based position, Burg’s tips will certainly be helpful.
“Collaboration is the ultimate win-win. It’s both parties getting MORE of what they do want (as opposed to compromise); it’s the ultimate one plus one equals three.”
3. Clayton Christensen
Before his death in early 2020, Oxford and Harvard graduate Clayton Christensen was regarded as one of the foremost authorities on strategic thought and innovation. He authored and co-authored dozens of bestselling books and journal articles throughout the years, including “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and “The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty.” The former Harvard business school professor is also the figurehead behind the Clayton Christensen Institute, a think tank dedicated to improving the world through disruptive innovation.
“You can talk all you want about having a clear purpose and strategy for your life, but ultimately this means nothing if you are not investing the resources you have in a way that is consistent with your strategy. In the end, a strategy is nothing but good intentions unless it's effectively implemented.”
4. Lee Cockerell
As the former vice president of operations for Walt Disney World, Lee Cockerell knows a thing or two about excellence in the service management industry. His last two books—both published in 2016—are aptly titled “Time Management Magic” and “Career Magic.” The former is focused on making the best use of your time, the latter focused on how to handle the high and low points of your career. Check out his website or his latest tweets for more details.
“Culture eats strategy for lunch. You get the culture right, your people will help you implement any strategy you come up with. You don’t get the culture right, you’re not gonna get anywhere because they won’t help you. They’ll quit.”
5. Cheryl Snapp Conner
Public Relations (PR) and communication expert Cheryl Conner has created a name for herself through bridging the gap between communication and business strategy. She is the founder and managing partner of Snapp Conner PR, an industry-leading firm that has worked with dozens of large companies worldwide. Conner has been a regular contributor to Forbes and The Wall Street Journal.
“Whether you work in a new industry or a traditional market, it is vital to look beyond the way your company is succeeding today to think about how you need to position your solution and message to ensure you don’t become obsolete.”
6. Lolly Daskal
Lolly Daskal is considered one of the foremost leadership experts in the world and is hired by some of the top executives around the globe to help them make a positive impact in their organizations and beyond. Her latest book, “The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness,” focuses on how to become a better leader—as do the many articles you can find on her blog. If you want to learn to become a stronger leader from a pro, make sure you’re following Daskal.
“Understand the vision of the business or project and keep it at the forefront at all times. As a leader, you need to stay focused, prioritize and keep moving toward your goals.”
7. Steve Denning
Steve Denning’s expertise lies in the parallels between storytelling and management. He works with companies worldwide, consulting on innovative new business techniques and practices. If you’re looking to turn traditional management thinking on its head and understand management in a new way, Denning’s latest book, “The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management,” is a must-read.
“Storytelling translates dry and abstract numbers into compelling pictures of a leader’s goals. Although good business cases are developed through the use of numbers, they are typically approved on the basis of a story—that is, a narrative that links a set of events in some kind of causal sequence.”
8. Nir Eyal
Nir Eyal is a Stanford-educated entrepreneur, researcher, consultant, and author who focuses on a topic he calls “behavioral design”—a mix of psychology, technology, and business, according to his blog. His 2014 book “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” is an ideal read if you’re building a product and want to know how you can make it better. Check out his website, and give him a follow on Twitter—he tweets good stuff regularly.
“There are three ingredients required to initiate any and all behaviors: (1) the user must have sufficient motivation; (2) the user must have the ability to complete the desired action; and (3) a trigger must be present to activate the behavior.”
9. Thomas Friedman
Thomas Friedman is three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times columnist. He has written seven books, focusing primarily on environmentalism, globalization, and foreign and domestic policy. While Friedman isn’t a business strategist, strictly speaking, he has drawn parallels between policy and international business in his writing and his ideas are certainly valuable. Find out more about Thomas Friedman in this profile from The New Yorker.
“The hallmark of a truly successful organization is the willingness to abandon what made it successful and start fresh.”
10. Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell is an author, public speaker, and staff writer for The New Yorker. His five books deal frequently with cognitive and social psychology—often as they relate to business, advertising, and strategy. You can read one of his most popular articles in The New Yorker, “The Talent Myth,” here.
“Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good.”
11. Seth Godin
Seth Godin is well-known for his extensive work in marketing and leadership, and was inducted into the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame in 2013. He has authored 19 books—including bestsellers “Purple Cow” and “Tribes”—and has made his mark by helping individuals learn to market their businesses effectively. Godin is known for his extremely short blog posts. If you want an easy way to stay up-to-date with what he publishes, follow him on Twitter—he only tweets his blog posts.
“Strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations.”
12. Vijay Govindarajan
A professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, Govindarajan (commonly known as VG) is widely considered to be one of the best business school professors in the world. VG is a leading authority on strategy thought leadership and innovation, and has worked alongside numerous Fortune 500 management teams to create better business strategies. He is passionate about innovation in developing countries; you can read about that in his blog.
“The future is not located on some far-off horizon, and you cannot postpone the work of building it until tomorrow. To get to the future you must build it day by day.”
13. Lynda Gratton
A top strategy thought leader, Lynda Gratton is an expert in organization behavior. She is a Professor and Director of the world’s leading Human Resources (HR) program at the London Business School. When she isn’t teaching, Gratton is writing—she’s written ten books that examine HR and strategy—or acting as an organization consultant for other large firms.
“Globalization means you can assume somebody, somewhere around the world is going to be able to make what you can make faster and cheaper. So in high-cost societies that increasingly means value can only be created through innovation. And that takes an enormous focus on human assets—investment in both individuals and the organizational structures and technologies that get people to work together seamlessly.”
14. Tim Harford
Tim Harford is a Financial Times columnist and well-known author. His first book “The Undercover Economist” takes an unconventional and entertaining look at economic theories. His other works include “Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives,” which fights the adage that cleanliness is next to godliness. Whether you read one of his books or his well-known “Dear Economist” column, you’ll walk away with a fresh perspective.
“Always be willing to seek help, ideally from a different person than you normally would, try unusual experiences, or work with new tools. Recognizing this will feel uncomfortable, and that you’re not going to necessarily love it or continue working this way or start producing the best work. But you might start down a very interesting path that can help you make something fresh or solve an old problem.”
15, 16. Chip and Dan Heath
Chip and Dan Heath are business strategists, authors, public speakers, and brothers. They’ve co-authored and published four books, including “Decisive,” “Switch,” and “Made To Stick”—all of which have been best-sellers. Chip is a professor at the Stanford School of Business and Dan is a Senior Fellow at Duke University’s CASE center—The Center for Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship—where he founded the Change Academy.
“To make our communications more effective, we need to shift our thinking from ‘What information do I need to convey?’ to ‘What questions do I want my audience to ask?’”
17. Sylvia Ann Hewlett
Hewlett is a woman of many talents—she’s an economist, renowned speaker, and CEO of a consulting firm (Hewlett Consulting Partners) and non-profit think tank (Talent Innovation). She’s penned 10 books, including her latest, “Executive Presence,” in which she discusses how your perception of yourself shapes your advancement in the workplace.
With regard to sponsors and proteges in a work setting, Hewlett said: “Winning a sponsor is just the beginning. The relationship must be consistently nurtured and periodically refreshed—tasks that fall to the junior player. Successful protégés understand that sustaining sponsorship looks a lot like earning it: meeting deadlines, exceeding targets, and proving you will advance the larger mission.”
18. Ryan Holmes
Ryan Holmes is the founder and CEO of Hootsuite as well as a self-proclaimed “future enthusiast, inventor, [and] hacker.” He is a frequent contributor to Inc., where he writes about social media, technology, and leadership. His Twitter is constantly updated with good content; from a Forbes podcast interview to a LinkedIn article he authored on running Hootsuite from his iPhone (an experiment of sorts), you’ll find a plethora of good thought leadership.
“There are no million-dollar ideas—only million-dollar executions. Without the right talent, the right technology, and real traction, even a brilliant vision is bound to flounder.”
19. Herminia Ibarra
Herminia Ibarra is the Professor of Leadership and Learning and Organizational Behavior at INSEAD Graduate Business School. The Cuban native is an expert in leadership and professional development, and has been published many times in leading management journals. To learn more about her view on why leaders should orchestrate change by taking action first, then changing their way of thinking, check out Ibarra’s latest book, “Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader.”
“Knowing what we should be doing and actually doing it are two very different things.”
20. Sheena S. Iyengar
Author of the critically-acclaimed book “The Art of Choosing” and Columbia Business School professor Sheena Iyengar is considered the leading expert on the subject of choice. Her text delves into whether choice is a culturally-constructed concept, and how much control we truly have over our choices. If you are interested in understanding the choices you, your co-workers, or your employees make, take a closer look into Iyengar’s research.
“Choice is not about being reactive to whatever is in front of you. It's being able to be proactive about creating those choices that enable you to go from who you are today to whom you want to be tomorrow.”
21. Daniel Kahneman
Daniel Kahneman is a highly regarded psychology and public affairs professor at Princeton University and a renowned author. He’s one of the most influential psychologists on the planet and a Nobel Prize winner for his work in behavioral economics. If you haven’t read his 2011 bestseller “Thinking, Fast And Slow”—which examines the different ways we think and how those thought processes impact the way we make choices—you’re missing out. While Kahneman doesn’t have Twitter or a blog, you can get more of him from this TED talk he gave in 2010.
“Acquisition of skills requires a regular environment, an adequate opportunity to practice, and rapid and unequivocal feedback about the correctness of thoughts and actions.”
22. Rosabeth Moss Kanter
A business professor at Harvard University and chair and director of the Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative, Rosabeth Moss Kanter has focused her life’s work and research on strategy thought leadership. Kanter has authored or co-authored a tremendous number of articles and case studies through Harvard Business Review and other publishing houses. Take this article, “Workplace Rage,” for example. She asserts (via her Twitter page) that “high-performance cultures require leaders who invest in people & improve their work conditions.” You’ll find various other innovative topics of research if you give her a follow.
“Leaders today need to be very flexible. You need to define goals much more broadly than ‘whether we’ll make this quarter’s earnings’ or ‘whether a particular device gets launched on the market.’ Leaders need to work around the obstacles, try a different way, if they believe that the goal is really important.”
23, 24. Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton
In 1992, Drs. Robert Kaplan and David Norton developed the Balanced Scorecard, a revolutionary strategic performance management system that aligns business strategy and goals in organizations worldwide. Their work in strategy implementation and performance management is considered to be second to none.They have co-authored five books and eight articles. You can read more about the Balanced Scorecard in this Harvard Business School working paper.
“A distinguishing feature of the comprehensive management system is its explicit link between long-term strategy and daily operations.”
25. John P. Kotter
John Kotter—a Harvard professor, best-selling author, and acclaimed public speaker—is an expert on change and leadership. He founded Kotter International, a management consulting firm, to help organizations worldwide lead more effectively during times of change.
“It is often said that major change is impossible unless the head of the organization is an active supporter. What I am talking about goes far beyond that. In successful transformations, the chairman or president or division general manager, plus another 5 or 15 or 50 people, come together and develop a shared commitment to excellent performance through renewal.”
26. Steven D. Levitt
Economist Steven Levitt is widely known for applying economic theory to subjects that are not typically discussed. His 2005 bestseller “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores The Hidden Side Of Everything” discusses topics such as financial and criminal impacts of drug dealing, larger police forces, and abortion. Levitt and co-author Steven J. Dubner have also penned “SuperFreakonomics” and “Think Like A Freak,” and have been both highly praised and criticised for their work.
“Knowing what to measure and how to measure it makes a complicated world much less so.”
27. Rita Gunther McGrath
Acclaimed public speaker and leadership consultant Rita McGrath is considered an expert in business strategy. She often speaks and writes about competitive strategy, handling business adversity, innovation, and organizational leadership. She is also a professor at Columbia Business School.
“Companies need to provide some stability in the midst of change. There has to be a mix. People need to be able to count on their leaders and the values of the firm. They need to have a common understanding of what’s within the strategy and what’s excluded from the strategy. There needs to be clarity about the relationships and the development of people. These things provide stability. On the other hand, they need to be pushed to avoid complacency, to try new things, and to stretch a bit. Part of the skill of leadership is being able to provide both. It’s provoking change and giving people something they can count on at the same time.”
28. Daniel Pink
Armed with a Yale Law degree and years of political policy under his belt, Daniel Pink offers a unique perspective on what he calls “the changing workplace.” He has authored six bestselling books, including the New York Times bestseller “Drive: The Surprising Truth Behind What Motivates Us.” If you are interested in learning more about the intersections between human behavior and the workplace, check out Pink’s work.
“What you decide not to do is probably more important than what you decide to do.”
29. Don Tapscott
On the forefront of media innovation and the social impact of technology is Don Tapscott. He has authored and co-authored 16 books during his career, including the best-selling management book of 2007, “Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything.” If you are interested in how technology is changing the business landscape, Tapscott’s work is a must-read.
“If you work for and eventually lead a company, understand that companies have multiple stakeholders including employees, customers, business partners and the communities within which they operate.”
30. Margie Warrell
Margie Warrell’s list of accomplishments is long—she is a Forbes magazine columnist, a commentator for ABC News and the Today Show, a keynote speaker, and a bestselling author. Her work focuses on “Living Bravely”—her tagline—and how to identify and fix anything that could be holding you back from living your best life. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, check out her book “Make Your Mark: A Guidebook for the Brave Hearted,” which offers seven steps to help you reach that goal.
“A question for you: ‘What is your ultimate vision for yourself and, if you aspire to true leadership, for your organization two years from now?’ And once you’ve clarified that, a second question: ‘Where could you be acting more purposefully and boldly right now bring it into reality?’ While fear tends to run high in crisis, the courage to act decisively and purposefully is key. This isn’t about being reckless; denying real risks or failing to manage legitimate threats. Rather it’s about ensuring you are investing energy and resources in identifying opportunities and positioning yourself (your team and organization) to seize them.”
All 30 of these individuals offer highly sought-after insights and business thought leadership, and are shaping and redefining business leadership today. Be sure to follow these thought leaders on Twitter or bookmark their websites for excellent business and strategy advice.