The term thought leader is well known in the industry.
A thought leader is an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded. The term was coined in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of the Booz Allen Hamilton magazine Strategy & Business, and used to designate interview subjects for that magazine who had business ideas which merited attention.
But, in the data center industry I would use a different definition of a thought leader. the above says the individual is recognized as an authority. One way to interpret the recognized is the person is presenting and covered by the media. But, just because you are recognized and covered by the media does not mean you are a thought leader.
While I was at DCD I was catching up with and handful of people who I think of thought leaders. One is Stephen Worn, CTO of DCD.
Another was Christian Belady
And another is Don Beaty
But, there many more who I consider thought leaders who were not presenting and the media doesn't know about. These guys know how to operate data centers across the world and build new ones that provide a low TCO while fitting their business models. They are often all over the world. These people are not making the presentations and they are quietly out of the attention of the media working on innovative solutions where the client is building a competitive advantage.
Sometimes the so-called thought leaders are the ones who enjoy getting in front of the audience telling people how good they are and what they have done. This collects a set of people who will follow this leader, believing his words as if they are gospel. It becomes almost a religious following. If you try to point out to the followers that their thought leader may be wrong, you will be accused of blasphemy. It's not as bad as a Jim Jones cult, but it is not often not worth trying to enlighten the followers. They'll find out eventually what happens if you follow the faux thought leader for too long.
Myself I have made the mistake of believing what people present as true at a data center conference. With experience though I learned to fact check what people say. What is fact checking? Here is an illustration of the Washington Post fact checking the NYTimes post by Vladimir Putin.
When I see a faux data center thought leader I learn to find the facts that are not quite true.