How to Become a Thought Leader and Why it Matters
Have you ever seen or read something that has given you insightful information on the industry you work in? Something that made you rethink certain aspects of how you approach your work or gave you the courage to try something new? If the answer is yes, then the chances are that you have read or seen something written by a thought leader.
If you have in-depth knowledge of your industry that could help others, it’s worth considering becoming a thought leader yourself. It could set you on a new path of mentorship, helping others improve their businesses and their personal skills.
But what is a thought leader - and how do you become one?
Benefits of Thought Leadership
So, you’re considering becoming a thought leader. But what benefits will it bring? One thing to remember is that thought leadership is not confined to an individual; you can also establish your brand as being thought leaders in their particular business sector.
- Establish credibility and expertise
If you’re a thought leader, you have demonstrated that you have extensive knowledge of the area you are working in or writing about. For example, you may have good ideas around how Assembly Software can help with lawyer burnout. By sharing your knowledge - and experience - with others, you are boosting your credibility and this can help attract readers and also boost any marketing you do.
- Build trust and loyalty with your audience
In business, the most important relationships are built on trust. That holds true for relationships with both customers and partners/suppliers. Being a thought leader means that you are sharing ideas that help them help themselves. It’s not directly promotional or salesy - and this can help build trust with your audience. By continually sharing useful advice and ideas, you can build a loyal, regular audience who trust your opinions.
- Differentiate from competitors
You already know how important it is to stand out from the competition. You may already be doing this through analyzing their SEO use, designing interesting products, or providing customer service. When you’re a thought leader in your industry, you can stand out even more. If people are listening to you - and maybe even implementing your suggestions - then it is highly likely they will prefer your business to that of your competitors.
- Opening new opportunities and partnerships
Being a leader means people will get to know your name (or the name of your business). That in itself is effective marketing and can lead to potential customers and/or partners approaching you with little effort on your part. For example, if you have shared ideas and suggestions on how to best utilize a remote desktop connection manager, then you have shown you are a tech expert and people (or brands) will want to work with you as a result.
Characteristics of Thought Leaders
What makes a thought leader? It’s not something that can entirely be taught, but something that can come about as a result of amassed skills and experience. Thought leadership is something that combines hard and soft skills and will usually come from years of working in the business.
- Deep knowledge and expertise
This is one area where learning will help! It may not involve formal learning (though there could be some aspects of that), but often comes from experience over time. Being able to establish yourself (or your brand) as an expert in your chosen field is the foundation for thought leadership.
- Strong communication and storytelling skills
There is little point in having that knowledge and expertise if you don’t have the soft skills that allow you to share with others. Having good communication skills is a key aspect of thought leadership, as it means you can ‘speak’ directly to people. Focus on your strengths - if you’re a sales-savvy charismatic speaker, you might want to make informative videos about selling techniques.
- Openness to sharing insights and ideas
While there may be some proprietary knowledge you want to keep to yourself, the whole idea of thought leadership is to share your insights. If you’ve spotted a bug in a particular piece of software, and have solved how to work around that bug, then you need to be open to sharing that with other users. If people are going to look to you as a thought leader, then they need to be sure that you will share any insights you have.
- Consistency and authenticity in thought leadership efforts
Thought leadership means that people trust and believe in you and what you say. These will usually be long term relationships so you need to be consistent and authentic in what you say/write. For example, if a company offers a sizable sum to promote their products but those products do not fit with your usual messages, then you should say no. Being consistent and authentic also means being honest with any followers.
Strategies to Achieve Thought Leadership
Becoming a thought leader isn’t simply a case of simply declaring yourself one. You need to follow tried and proven strategies so that others see you as a thought leader.
- Identify your niche and target audience
Who are you intending to be a thought leader for? Of course, you will be speaking from your own expertise in whatever industry you work in. But within that industry, are you talking to customers or fellow professionals (or both)? As well as knowing your audience, you’ll need to know what issues they experience, what motivates them, and what they want to hear about.
You can conduct surveys or even post on social media to identify these factors. Take the time to find existing blogs in your niche and figure out what they’re not providing. Remember to keep track of changing demands over time, and listen to your audience so that your output doesn’t become stale or outdated.
- Create valuable and insightful content
As mentioned, communication is a key factor. That means your content should not only be engaging, it should also offer something to your community that actually helps them in some way. Content that allows your followers to take beneficial actions is valuable to them. That doesn’t mean it always has to be positive. After all, if you highlight mistakes you have made - and how you got past them - it can help others to avoid those same mistakes.
- Engage with the community
Thought leadership should not be a one-way street. Once you have created a community, engaging with them is essential. Not only does this engagement allow for followers to ask questions on current topics, it also means they can highlight issues they may be having and want insights from you on. The whole basis of community is discussion. You may be a ‘leader’ but engaging with your followers is an important skill set.
- Utilize social media and online platforms
Where do you plan on posting your thought leadership pieces? While a blog may build a good list of subscribers, it’s also restricting your reach if this is your only outlet. Look at social media and other platforms where your thoughts will be recognized and where you can promote your blog. This is a great way of ensuring engagement and communication, and platforms such as LinkedIn can help connect you with other professionals in your field.
- Collaborate with others
Thought leadership should not exist in a vacuum. You may be an expert in most things but there will be others who are more expert in your weaker areas. Let’s say you’re a sales expert - why not collaborate with someone who worked on a call center workforce management guide? That way you can combine your sales background with their management know-how.
A willingness to collaborate doesn’t just demonstrate recognition of any weaknesses (which in turn, can build trust and authenticity), it can also help widen your reach as new people come across your work.
As we’ve said - you can’t just declare yourself a thought leader, other people have to. So as with any other personal goals, you need to consider two questions. Are you already suitably skilled and experienced to be a thought leader? If not, what do you have to do in order to achieve that position?
Thought leadership also comes with a degree of responsibility. Your followers will trust you and look up to you. That means you have to ensure that you live up to their expectations, being honest and transparent at all times. Many people will view you as a mentor and your views and suggestions can significantly affect them and/or their business. It’s not something that will gain you a quick buck - but it is something that’ll gain you respect for years to come.