I come from a similar background. I’ve racked and stacked servers via a lot of (literal) blood, sweat and tears. And these days I work as a consultant helping people transition into leveraging the power of cloud computing and DevOps.
I personally don’t see being called a ‘thought leader’ to have any element of a slight to it — and I don’t think you should either. I would consider it a great compliment, as it is a skill far rarer than skill as a pure engineer.
No offense intended here, but maybe you should work on taking a compliment in the spirit it was intended, to encourage and appreciate.