Do you have ideas about the direction your industry should be heading? If so, you could be on your way to become a thought leader – to becoming an expert in your profession and someone people look up to for fresh ideas.
Every industry needs leaders – the world’s greatest developments would not have occurred if it weren’t for the brave individuals who thought outside the box. But what does it take to become a thought leader, someone who’ll change the industry?
This guide will look at 1) thought leaders, 2) the qualities you need and 3) the steps you’ll need to take in order to change your industry, and perhaps the world.
- 1 WHAT IS A THOUGHT LEADER?
- 2 WHY SHOULD YOU BECOME A THOUGHT LEADER?
- 3 KEY STEPS TO TAKE TO BECOME A THOUGHT LEADER
- 4 FINAL THOUGHTS
WHAT IS A THOUGHT LEADER?
Most people tend to have their own definitions of a thought leader. While there are always going to be subtle definitional dispersion around the term, the consensus agrees thought leaders to be individuals, or even organizations, that make a significant and positive difference in their industry.
Thought leaders are the go-to people in their field. They aren’t necessarily the most successful in their field in things such as position or monetary gain, but the industry respects these people and look up to them for inspiration.
While thought leaders don’t have to be holding the highest positions in business or industry, they are always people who can make their ideas work. It’s easy to think thought leaders are people who can only offer ideas. But thought leaders are people who can turn these ideas into sustainable change – innovation won’t only be about coming up with ideas, but also about making these ideas work.
Few examples of great thought leaders
If you are looking to become a thought leader, it is a good idea to look at examples of thought leaders. Not only does it clarify the qualities and characteristics of a thought leader, it also helps you learn about the steps these people took in order to become a thought leader.
Every industry in the world has a few respected thought leaders and it would be impossible to list all the famous names. But below you can see a two of the most well known examples.
Nate Silver is a world famous statistician. He took the world by storm during the 2008 Presidential election in the US, when his blog was able to predict the results. He used his expertise in statistics to create interesting and compelling analysis.
While his predictions were largely dismissed at the start, his accuracy in the end lifted him on the platform. He became a trusted spokesperson in his field and Silver is a frequent guest on news platforms whenever there’s talk about the upcoming elections or prediction of some sort.
Robert Scoble’s position as a thought leader happened slightly differently. Scoble is a tech geek, who was working at Microsoft and evangelizing to the world about the latest inventions. He did so through his highly successful blog, Scobleizer.
He has been able to talk about new tech gadgets before they’ve made it big in the public, because of his connections and passion. He is looked up as someone the companies want to contact, in order to get an analysis and exposure for their products.
The qualities of a thought leader
But what are the key qualities people like Silver and Scoble share? While each thought leader can and should do things a bit differently, there are some characteristics they all have in common.
If you want to become a thought leader, you might want to start by developing the following six qualities.
You cannot convince other people in your industry to follow you, if you don’t know enough about the sector. Knowledge is truly power when it comes to becoming a thought leader. For example, Silver knew the world of statistics inside out and was able to draw into this knowledge.
Thought leaders not only know their industry inside out, they are often able to draw into other sectors for information as well. It is this broad understanding of different industries, as well as the world as a whole, that helps them achieve expertise and to think outside the box.
Thought leaders are always passionate about what they do. It is hard to convince others to listen to you, unless you care about what you are talking. You are more able to inspire and motivate, if you are passionate about what you are doing.
If you want to be a leader and an innovator, you’ll need to have patience. Changing your industry for the better won’t happen overnight, as humans tend to resist change. You’ll need to be able to stay calm and continue towards your goals.
You’ll also be dealing with many people, some of whom might not understand your vision from the get-go. You’ll need to be able to explain your ideas to people clearly and calmly.
Becoming a thought leader won’t be an easy journey. You are going to meet resistance, questioning and even sometimes outright hostility. But thought leaders persevere.
Setbacks, criticism and failure are likely going to play a part in your journey. What will set you apart from the rest will be the fortitude to withstand the events you are faced with.
Have you ever met a leader who doesn’t trust in his or her abilities? Most unlikely, as self-belief is one of the key characteristics successful people share. You’ll need to be confident in your ability because you’ll meet people who’ll doubt you.
Remember confidence doesn’t mean the same as bragging. Confident people don’t need to keep telling other people they are great, they’ll just go and show them.
Finally, thought leaders are always able to charm. They have presence – they can fill the room with a sense of charming authority or come across as extremely warm and friendly.
WHY SHOULD YOU BECOME A THOUGHT LEADER?
Before we move on to the concrete steps you need to take in order to become a thought leader, it is important to consider why you should be aiming towards this goal.
While personal gain shouldn’t be the driving force, but rather your passion for developing your industry, there are things to gain from being a thought leader. If you are passionate about your career and your industry, then it can definitely be a good idea to consider taking the steps to become a thought leader.
The benefits of being a thought leader include:
- Professional accomplishment – You’ll naturally achieve the feeling of a professional accomplishment as a thought leader. You need to work hard in order to become a thought leader and receiving recognition will make all the hard work seem worth it.
- Career satisfaction – If you are passionate about your industry, but you don’t feel satisfied with your career, becoming a thought leader can help you massively. Knowing you are valued and listened to will give better career satisfaction. It might also suit you better than seeking a specific position in the industry career ladder.
- Strategic visibility – You can increase your strategic visibility as a thought leader. Not only does it mean your professional visibility increases in general, you’ll also improve your visibility among the people who matter. This could be sponsors, media people or even politicians.
If you are a business owner, then you will enhance your business prospects with better visibility among the people that matter. You can also shed light into other aspects of your industry and therefore, improving how the world views your industry.
- Improving opportunities – Overall, being on top of your industry and leading the way, you’ll gain better opportunities. This often means you can continue to remain on top of things because you’re constantly opening up more doors to new achievements.
Furthermore, you’ll also gain improved opportunities for your industry and local community. These opportunities will make it a lot easier to achieve lasting and meaningful change within your industry.
KEY STEPS TO TAKE TO BECOME A THOUGHT LEADER
Regardless of your industry, there are certain strategies you can use to become a thought leader. The following will help you take the crucial steps in order to propel yourself into recognition.
Do something different
First, you’ll need to do something different in order to stand out from the crowd. Becoming a thought leader is not the same thing as being an expert in something. Most people can gain enough knowledge about an industry and can then talk about it like an expert, but only few can vision something new and fresh.
Thought leaders are always able to find a new angle to a story or come up with a better product – no matter what the industry is, the key is to refresh it with new ideas.
In order to become a thought leader you need to differentiate yourself from the rest of the industry. Nate Silver’s rise to being a thought leader is the perfect example of this. He did something different, trusted his ability and in the end proved everyone else wrong. Only by showing an alternative way are you able to make people listen to you.
Furthermore, thought leaders continue to be bold and different, even when they establish their position. As mentioned earlier, you are the driver of change and innovation – not an expert to point out the obvious.
But keep in mind that thought leaders stand out because they do something differently as well as correctly. If Silver got all of his predictions wrong, he wouldn’t be a thought leader.
As a thought leader, you won’t be selling just your ideas to the audience; you’ll also be selling yourself. Therefore, branding should be one of the first things you do.
Just as companies need to build a brand in order to gain reputation and market presence, thought leaders must do the same. Instead of marketing a product or a service, you need to sell your ideas and expertise.
Branding involves a lot of networking. It is important to take advantage of your existing connections, as well as create new ones. You want to be talking to people in the media, within your industry and other established influencers in order to get your word out. Become visible in industry seminars and networking events, as well as the digital world.
Make sure you also create a consistent approach to things such as blogging, social media and visiting seminars. You need to be visible regularly and in the right markets, not just when you have something new to say.
Furthermore, thought leaders can gain plenty of experience from mentors. You need to create connections with the right mentors and learn from them. At the same time, you can start reaching out to other people in the industry and start mentoring them.
Create a strong online presence
In the era of technology, becoming a thought leader means taking control of the Internet. Strong online presence will boost your chances of gaining more visibility and it has significantly improved a person’s ability to brand themselves.
You must create yourself a blog and use it for sharing your vision. Become a regular blogger and reach out to other bloggers as well to gain more visibility. But on top of this, you also need to be active on social media.
As you are aiming to become a thought leader, pay special attention to your content and the way you present it. As mentioned above, thought leaders stand out and one of the ways could be by having a unique approach to sharing your ideas.
In addition, there are different digital channels that might work better for specific industries. But you shouldn’t overlook the three key social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Make sure you don’t just share your own opinions on social media. You also need to engage other people in conversation, share other people’s ideas which you’ve find useful and connect with people that might be interested in your ideas.
Finally, you need to remember a strong online presence isn’t just about being visible. The quality of your presence also matters. You cannot spew out content that has no value and adds nothing to the conversation within your industry. Make sure you carefully consider each comment, post and share you make online. Ask yourself how they will impact your thought leader position and whether they bring you closer to your goals.
Get media visibility
Social media presence alone won’t necessarily turn you into a thought leader. You still need to be acknowledged by the media. You’ll want to try to appeal to the industry specific media, as well as the general media.
Remember media outlets don’t always come to you for comments directly. Sometimes it helps to offer your expertise to the local radio, newspaper or TV station. Tell the influencers in the media about your ideas and vision – create connections.
One of the best ways to gain both media visibility and more credibility as a thought leader is by publishing a book. Not only are you able to sell your book, but you’ll also get to talk about it in the media. Use the concepts you’ve developed in your blog as a base for your book, for example.
Before you start contacting the big media outlets and top industry publications, make sure you have something to show. Start by getting your blog enough regular readers and good quality content, guest blog in the smaller industry-related blogs and slowly move towards catching the bigger fish.
Make sure you don’t just preach to the converted. While it is always easier to appear in front of media channels that adore you, you also need to reach out to the audience that might not agree with you.
Be ready for the storms
Finally, as you start with the following steps, you will start gaining more publicity and get closer to your ultimate goal. But it won’t be easy – in fact, the closer you get to your goal, the tougher it will become to achieve it.
This is because people won’t automatically love you or believe you. As you are trying to change the thinking within the industry, you are going to cause a stir. You’ll receive criticism – some of it which might be genuine – and you’ll most likely encounter jealous people.
Some of the biggest thought leaders are also rather divisive figures. Consider Tony Robbins, for example. While he has been able to gain a huge following that adores him and he regularly speaks in the top publications, there are also plenty of people in the industry that don’t agree with him. But he isn’t bothered by it!
As a leader, you cannot simply overlook these people, but you also can’t let them win. Don’t get lost in bitter battles with your opponents, but don’t forget to listen to them. You need to trust in your message and continue moving forwards confidently.
Thought leaders are different from each other and each industry naturally requires certain special characteristics and strategies. But the above should have shown you that becoming a thought leader doesn’t depend on your age, gender or ethnicity.
If you are passionate, committed and not afraid to take risks, then you can begin to change the course of your industry. Becoming a thought leader doesn’t happen overnight. You cannot take a course on it or expect it to just happen now that you’ve read this guide.
It’ll take hard work, willingness to commit to your goal and the ability to keep learning. But hopefully, you’ve gained the tools from this guide to start your journey. You have the understanding of what it takes and what approach you should take. Now you’ll just need the vision to put these tips into practice.