One of the most common requests from executives is to become a thought leader. The term “thought leader” often refers to someone who is an expert in his or her field. As popularized by marketing teams, the definition goes a step further in that the person is a recognized authority whose expertise is sought and often rewarded. It’s not enough to just be well-informed. You must be a trusted source and inspire others with innovative ideas while turning ideas into reality to be considered a thought leader. Thought leaders have to start with a provocative idea and the ability to engage others to continue building on the idea or take action.
The trouble is that positioning yourself as a thought leader often requires taking a controversial or disruptive point of view to rise above the noise of everyone else sharing ideas within your industry. To create a strong leadership position to elevate your personal and corporate brand you need to be innovative and unique. Essentially, you have to be bold and willing to take risks.
Thought Leadership Benefits and Risks
If you can successfully establish yourself as a leader in your industry, you have the opportunity to make a meaningful impact on issues that matter. When you become a trusted source, you can change the conversation by asserting your expertise and influence. As you establish yourself as someone who consistently provides ideas that are genuine and aim to enhance the conversation, more people will want to listen. Often, this results in better speaking opportunities and more interest from media to share insights and participate in stories.
With thought leadership also comes responsibility. At its core, thought leadership is about having the power and influence to persuade and create change. As the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” There’s a certain amount of ethical obligation to be truthful and helpful as you influence others to create change and bring forth new innovations.
Not all thought leaders are universally appreciated for their contributions though. Being in the spotlight can make you a target for critics. Having a strong point of view means you can’t please everyone. There will be opposition to your ideas and debate among others in the industry. Credible leaders will have the proper sources and background to support their arguments.
Steps to Become a Thought Leader
While being a thought leader is an objectively valuable path for any executive or professional, it’s important to recognize the amount of effort required to be successful. It’s not enough to launch a blog and start creating content. The road to thought leadership starts with credibility and draws in ingenuity to differentiate yourself. Here are four tips to positioning yourself as a thought leader:
- Build a personal brand. A personal brand is important in building your reputation and establishing your authority. Your personal brand should be polished, interesting and authentic. Start by reflecting on what you believe in and stand for to create your value proposition. Decide what image you want to portray and then cultivate that image through profile photos, writing and comments. Make sure your social channels reflect your personal brand and are an accurate representation of you. Evaluate your performance periodically to make sure that you’re sticking to your brand.
- Show you understand your audience. Tailor your content and messaging to grab the attention of your intended audience and on which platforms. A narrow focus is better for engaging the right people at the right time. Knowing who your audience is will better allow you to build messaging that inspires them to engage and share your content. In turn, this will further support your authority on a subject.
- Create quality content. Creating quality content isn’t always easy. You need to do your research. Figure out what everyone is talking about and decide how your brand fits within the conversation. Draft thoughtful, meaningful pieces once you have something relevant – whether it’s long form for your blog or a short burst for a social account. How you’re presenting your content also matters. Make sure you’re using the right platform to get your message out, and keep appearances in-line with your brand.
- Make bold claims. Having a clear, compelling point of view is key. Look at what your competitors are discussing and see how you can set yourself apart. Being opinionated opens you up to criticism, but it also encourages discussion and engagement. Figure out what makes you different and own it. Balance reason and emotion to enhance your point of view but constantly push boundaries. Thought leaders don’t restrain POVs because of preconceived notions of what works or what’s appropriate. The more a POV can disrupt thinking and present new ideas, the more people will look to you as a leader.
Becoming a thought leader does not happen overnight. Establishing credibility, authority and identifying provocative POVs takes time. Putting in the time, effort and work are essential to fine-tune your personal brand and messaging and get into a thought leadership position. It’s an ongoing process to maintain a thought leadership position once you’ve established credibility and authority. Bottom line: Have a thought to be a thought leader.
Do you have compelling ideas you’re ready to share with the world? Want to partner with us? Learn more about our POV program here.