For the last few years, we’ve heard the term “thought leader” and “thought leadership” thrown around as something to which we should aspire. But what’s so great about being a thought leader? Why should you want to be perceived as a thought leader in your industry?
Because with this perception comes respect, influence, and opportunity.
The truth is, thought leadership is basically a fancy term for expert or guru. According to Oxford Languages, a thought leader is “a person whose views are taken to be authoritative and influential.” Not only are thought leaders extremely knowledgeable in a particular field, but their ideas are influential, persuasive, and often significant. They are leaders in their space, able to change how others think about certain subjects, and even to prompt them to act.
Being a thought leader comes with power that can generate new business opportunities—everything from public speaking to teaching to consulting, publishing, and creating—all of which can enrich your bottom line.
That’s the real benefit of being a thought leader.
So how do you become one?
Becoming a Thought Leader
The thing about thought leaders is that they are almost always a step ahead of everyone else when it comes to information in their industry. Because of their experience, talent, education, and connections, they spot patterns and opportunities before others do. And they share that information to benefit others, because a leader is all about serving others. That doesn’t mean they can’t also benefit themselves, but being of service is what true leaders aspire to do.
Educate and inform
Thought leaders use what they know, and what they observe, to educate and inform others around them. They are information hubs, gathering and disseminating useful information as much as possible. They may do that through a blog, a podcast, social media posts, public speaking, writing a column, or something else, but they are often the first to address a relevant topic.
It’s much harder to be viewed as a leader if all you do is follow the crowd. Sharing relevant social media posts that others have published is fine, especially if you add your own thoughts or viewpoints at the top, but don’t let that be the only thing you do. You need to also publish your own original content. And in order to stand out as a leader, sometimes you need to go against the grain, to question decisions, to offer alternatives to the ideas that have already been presented. Rather than sweep issues under the rug, you may need to bring them up. However, whenever you surface a problem, it’s important to also offer a solution. Don’t risk being viewed as a complainer.
Align yourself with other leaders
When you do share information and ideas that others have put forth, try to make sure it comes from other leaders you would like to be aligned with. Give them credit. Are there local business leaders you admire, or maybe leaders in your field? Make a point of commenting on their social media posts in support. Share articles they publish and add your take. And when you write articles or blog posts, speak in public, or are quoted in the media, name drop other leaders whose thinking is like your own. Not only will you position yourself as an ally, but you may earn their gratitude.
Above all else, being a thought leader requires that you publish your ideas regularly. That may mean a weekly blog post, three social media posts a week, a podcast episode every Friday, or a biweekly newsletter, for example—whatever makes sense for your particular audience. But whatever pace you decide on, stick with it. Publishing interesting, useful information is key, but as soon as you begin to attract followers, they will look forward to your musings. Don’t let them down. Pick a schedule and stick to it.
Build a community
Publishing regularly is the best way to build a community. Write useful content and share it with people you think will find it relevant. Work to attract new members or subscribers and ask what they want to learn. Use that information to craft even more relevant content to share. That will win you social media followers. You can also create a Facebook or LinkedIn group to bring together individuals who want to be part of your tribe, as Seth Godin calls it, meaning, people with similar interests and aspirations.
Never stop learning
The only way to remain a thought leader is to keep learning, keep growing, and keep sharing what you know. Attend industry conferences, watch webinars, read content inside and outside your field, record videos, subscribe to newsletters, network with others in your space. Always be thinking about what may come next, whether it’s a technological breakthrough, a legislative restriction, a crisis, an emerging need, or something else. What’s coming down the pike that others haven’t noticed yet, but that you have? Share that and your thoughts about it.