How to Become a Thought Leader
Being a thought leader in your industry is a pretty nice gig. Consider it the adult equivalent of being the popular kid in school. Everyone wants to be your friend, they hang on to your every word, and your opinions become the law of the land. But while the cool kids stand out a mile at school, it’s a lot harder to become a thought leader. You can’t snag the title quickly or easily. It takes focus and effort. You need to generate a substantial amount of valuable content and be comfortable taking a stance on issues affecting your industry. It can take years to achieve, but the rewards outweigh the effort.
What is thought leadership?
The term ‘thought leadership’ was coined in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, former editor-in-chief of American magazine ‘Strategy and Business’. He defined thought leaders as people ‘that possess a distinctive and original idea, a unique point of view, or an unprecedented insight into their industry.’
Thought leaders are passionate advocates of their brand; in fact, most thought leaders live by their brand values. Take Virgin founder Richard Branson. The Virgin brand is about ‘providing heartfelt service, being delightfully surprising, red hot, and straight up, while maintaining an insatiable curiosity and creating smart disruption.’ The visionary behind the Virgin brand exemplifies these things. He regularly takes part in wacky and surprising PR stunts, he constantly stresses how delivering exemplary customer service is the top priority at Virgin, and he is surprisingly down-to-earth. He describes himself on Twitter as a ‘tie-loathing adventurer, philanthropist, and trouble-maker’. This persona is reflected in all his ventures, as well as his content.
If you want to become a thought leader in your industry, you need to do as Richard Branson does. What are your brand values? Do you live by them?
Content is king
Another key aspect to thought leadership is content. One blog a month isn’t going to cut it. You need to produce original, thought-provoking content on a consistent basis. In an article for Entrepreneur, Jason DeMers says thought leaders should ‘make bold claims in your articles and make predictions about the future of your industry.’
Don’t be surprised if you don’t get a lot of attention from doing this right away. But keep writing, recording, and posting. Want to match Branson’s influence? Start racking up quality tweets, blogs, and other meaningful, industry-changing content.
Speak at events
It’s hard to imagine that Tony Robbins, one of the world’s most popular self-help gurus, gave his inspiring presentations to small groups of 20 people when he started out. These days, he can easily fill a 20,000-seat auditorium. Perhaps you will too in time. But like Tony, you need to start small, get your voice heard and your face known.
Tip: Don’t wait around for the folks at TED to call you. Pitch yourself as a speaker, panellist, or workshop leader at a local level. One you’ve got a few successful speeches under your belt, you can pitch for bigger conferences and industry events. This is a great way to polish your pitch and gain exposure.
Give it away
Thought leadership is not a revenue stream. The most respected thought leaders give away all kinds of content in the form of blog posts, podcasts, videos and more. It’s a way for them to show their expertise and connect with their audience on a level that couldn’t be achieved if they asked for money. Create your thought leadership content with an eye towards accrual of brand value, not revenue. It’ll be worth it when journalists start pounding on your door for your opinion, and other businesses beg you to present at their conferences.
Love your subject matter
Thought leaders are passionate about their subject matter, often to the point of obsession. They read voraciously and subscribe to podcasts, as well as attend seminars and conferences. They’re always learning, reading, communicating and sharing.
You can’t fake being a thought leader. If you don’t fully understand your subject area or if you don’t have a desire to learn, it’ll soon become apparent.
This often-neglected activity is another great way to get your face known. It’s a good way to grow your knowledge, meet other influential people in your industry and test your thought leadership skills.
However, online networking isn’t nearly as efficient. So turn off the computer, take a break and head out for a spot of networking over lunch.
Becoming a thought leader in your field can be hugely rewarding. It can gain you a loyal audience, media attention, and a solid network of influencers, all of which will add credibility to your brand and boost business.
If you know your industry inside out and feel you have what it takes to be a thought leader, give me a call to chat through the next steps.