Who is Leading?

Leadership has been practiced for millennia, yet scientifically studied for only a century. This is the fourth in our series of lists of Top 25 Online Influencers and it's full of insights. Through our process and your feedback we've learned a lot from making these lists and we believe this list is breaking new ground, just like the leaders we're ranking. Read Below
Top 25 Online Influencers in Leadership logo


July 14, 2010 – This is the fourth in our series of Top 25 Influencers. Prior lists covered the Top 25 Online influencers in HR in general, Recruiting and Talent Management. Today, we unveil the Top 25 Online Influencers in Leadership. That is, we used Traackr (again) to discover which people are the most influential on the subject of leadership.

Dr. Todd Dewett, a professor at Wright State University agreed to partner with us on this project. Dr. Dewett specializes in leadership and organizationalpowered-by-traackreffectiveness. We asked him to help tailor the algorithm we used to crawl the web to figure out who matters on the topic of leadership.

If you’ve followed the previous Top 25 lists, you might remember the Traackr process. First, we build a set of keywords thst describe the area under investigsation. Traackr then scavenges the web with spiders and scrapers to capture all of the results of searches featuring those terms.

That body of data is then mined to determine the names that reoccur most often. Those names are further evaluated to determine a score on each of three variables:

  • Reach: This is an estimate of the size of the person’s audience. Website traffic, connections and friends on social media and other factors are weighed and calculated.
  • Resonance: This is a measure of inbound links, mentions in other peoples’ content and other proxies for credibility.
  • Relevance: This is a measure of the way that the person’s content maps against the original key words. A score of 100 indicates a perfect correlation.

Together, the three measures are combined into a single score which is the foundation of ranking.

Here’s Todd’s view of the project:

“Leadership” and “influence” have been studied and commented upon for ages. It is not clear, however, that they have been examined in light of the quantum changes underway in online communications. Consequently, we sought to examine leadership influence within the realm of popular online social media channels.

Our simple desire was to understand the match, or lack thereof, between more commonly cited measures of influence in the leadership realm (for example, common name recognition or book sales) and influence as measured via activity in social media outlets. An algorithm was developed, the internet was scoured, and the results will be discussed shortly.

Data and Chart Provided by Traackr

Data and Chart Provided by Traackr

First, however, it is important to discuss both influence and leadership a bit further. In a definitional sense, influence is not a difficult concept. To influence is merely to affect indirectly. To bend the behavior of a thing, absent overt forcing. Thus, through some combination of communication skill and intellectual prowess, a preacher can lift a flock, a manager can elevate his team’s performance, and a teacher can be a catalyst for meaningful student growth.

Whereas influence seems straight forward, it becomes more complex when combined with the word “leadership.” Leadership has been practiced for millennia, yet scientifically studied for only a century, give or take. Several unanswered questions remain and, for us, two in particular stand out. First, who owns the intellectual body of knowledge pertaining to “leadership.”

To put it kindly, several major camps have staked a claim to the leadership space. At different times and in different ways, these groups have included business school professors, executive practitioners, military scholars and personnel, political science professors, human resource professionals, and a host of others.

In our view this is odd, given how widely leadership is practiced across so many domains. Somewhat unexpectedly, our results support this notion. The second question concerns whether all versions of influence are created equally. Is it, for example, the same thing for a thought leader to deeply and profoundly influence one person as it is for that leader to mildly influence many thousands of people?

No sane person doubts that Oprah has influenced many millions of people. Chris Argryis likely influenced far fewer people, though we suspect more deeply. Does one have stronger leadership influence than the other?

One thing is certain: the channels of communication available to any though leader today are far more capable than in decades past, and one channel may trump the all – the internet.

We found a number of surprising things this time.

  • Finding 1: The list appears to have missed virtually everyone with a name in the leadesrship business.There are plenty of ways to generate a list that matches predetermined expectations. For instance, Jurgen Appelo has used an algorithm to compile a list of the Top 150 Blogs on Leadership. He combines Google Page Rank, Bing hit count, Alexa Ranking, Technorati Authority, Twitter Grader, PostRank and FeedBurner count into a single measure. (The method is described here). Jurgen’s approach begins with a list of the blogs you want to rank. The Traackr algorithm is more oriented to discovery.

    : Established authors and thinkers are losing ground to newer voices.
  • Finding 2: No One Group Owns Leadership Thought There are several groups of people who believe they have a clear franchise on the ‘leadership

    Data and Chart Provided by Traackr

    Data and Chart Provided by Traackr

    business’. Motivational consultants and authors, the academics who specialize in Leadership and Organizational Development,
    leadership trainers, sports organizations and the military are just a few of the groups who think they ‘own’ the franchise. In fact, what seems to be happening is that amatuers, bloggers and social media enthusiasts are developing first mover advantage on the social web. Leadership (and other academic specialties) appear to be in the process of being disrupted.

    Implication: Older and more established voices need to learn new communications channels in order to stay relevant.

  • Finding 3: There is a Shift in The Importance of Breadth versus Depth Another way of digesting this point is to notice that speed and volume trump ‘quality’ in the current web content environment. As long as search engines reward based on the volume of work, thoughtful and better researched material will fall to the bottom of search results. In a prior time, influence couldn’t be measured in any particular way. These early experiments involve measuring based on output and content. An inherent bias towards quantity will be hard to overcome without sematic search.Implication: Communicating in the new media is critical to being heard.

Here are the key words we used to generate the Top 25 Online Influencers in Leadership list:

“leadership development”,”employee engagement”,motivating employees,”leadership style”,”employee development”,”high performance teams”,servant leader,measuring leadership,”talent management”,”leadership consultant”,”leadership guru”,”management guru”,leadership integrity,leadership trust,leadership strengths,leadership authenticity,”motivational speaker”,”leadership speaker”,”leadership coaching”,”executive coaching”,”leadership communication”,”management style”,”management training”,”personal branding” leader,”executive leadership”