Thought Leadership

You want to be A Thought Leader

“Thought leadership” is a hot topic in the corporate world right now, and it’s simple to understand why. When people turn to you for your knowledge and insight, you may establish yourself as a prominent industry expert and a well-known voice in your field.

Thought leadership is expressing ideas that reflect your knowledge of a specific subject, sector, or issue. Many CEOs and corporate leaders want to be thought leaders in their professions. Most thought leaders not only know their domain well, but they are also enthusiastic about it and ready to share their industry expertise with others to help a company, organization, or cause.

What Is Thought Leadership?

My definition of Thought Leader — “an expert in a given field or subject with original thinking, go-to-person for ideas about vision, trends, logistics, and the complete knowledge about a product, idea, or a way of achieving a certain goal.

A Thought Leader can be:

  1. Someone is widely published in journals and trade publications or is officially certified as an expert in a field.
  2. Someone with enough knowledge to answer any questions and be considered the first resource for a given topic or trend.

However, a Thought Leader doesn’t stop at knowledge; they push innovation and new ways of thinking about their specialty. Most of the time, Thought Leaders are popular because they are motivated to expand people’s brains, encouraging and even challenging them to think profoundly, differently, and in only one direction; that is forward.

Thought Leadership Importance and Value

Industry expertise, insight, and a helpful viewpoint are all factors that contribute to thought leadership. In addition, to be an influential thought leader, you must have a depth of knowledge that no one else possesses. This has several significant advantages.

a. This qualifies you as a trustworthy source of insight and knowledge with the ability to influence people successfully.

b. Increases your industry visibility and helps you grow your brand.

c. It gives you credibility in your profession.

d. It encourages you to concentrate on what you know best and seek out opportunities to express it regularly.

e. Provides one-of-a-kind leadership and stimulates creativity.

f. Promotes forward-thinking.

What Isn’t Thought Leadership?

While knowledge is crucial, a Thought Leader wouldn’t be someone with just a passing interest. For example, an Automobile enthusiast who just read TOP 10 Industry trends would know about upcoming makes and models. But, instead, a Thought Leader would know which cars and trucks are primed to be the bestsellers based on past research, trends, and time spent in an automotive career.

Thought Leaders are beyond being just a Subject Matter Expert or an influencer. One can be a Subject Matter Expert (SME) because you can study, learn and get credentials to show that you have mastered a body of knowledge. SMEs have deep knowledge about a subject, but that doesn’t necessarily make them leaders. There is, of course, crossover.

Does SME and being an Influencer makes you a Thought leader?

Well, yes and no.

An influencer is someone who has sway over a large group of people. For example, an influencer with a 100K digital follower fan following can post a product to an Instagram account and boost its sales immediately. But you wouldn’t call the Instagram account owner with 100K fan followers a thought leader.

A key influencer has relevance, reach, and resonance. At the same time, a thought leader contributes with original ideas with purpose in a domain. Thought Leaders might have the ability to turn public opinion. However, it’s less because of who they are than what they know and have shown an ability to drive innovation.

A thought leader tends to have a more public persona than one who solely has subject matter expertise. In addition to substantial knowledge, a Thought Leader can anticipate risk, challenges, intangibles, and unknowns due to their deep immersion in the subject.

While everyone has a unique quality, specialty, and foundation knowledge, Thought Leadership takes this to an expert level, to the point of influencing choices and habits based on their knowledge. Thought Leadership isn’t just about opinions, but relatively complete and continuing knowledge to the point of being respected visionary. Thought leaders tend to act more innovatively as well. They have perspective and lead with vision. They have a deep understanding of their area and a prediction for its future, and they have a platform on which to share their ideas.

Thought Leadership Risks and Challenges

Thought leadership, like other methods of Leadership, has disadvantages. One possible stumbling block might be a restricted perspective or a Fixed Mindset. For example, suppose company executives are excessively strict or overly focused on their areas of expertise. In that case, they risk losing out on ideas that may help them succeed.

Furthermore, because thought leaders put themselves out there and frequently promote a less mainstream thinking style, they are sure to have opponents.

Aspiring to be a thought leader is an admirable ambition. Thought leadership is unquestionably the path to a fantastic, perhaps game-changing profession, but it does require leadership skills. After all, being acknowledged as a go-to authority — a trusted source for one’s capacity to inspire people and bring those ideas to life — is empowering in and of itself. However, it becomes much more so when it encourages thought leaders to duplicate their accomplishments.

Critical Skills and Qualities of Thought leaders

Thought Leaders need several qualities to be successful and recognized within their industry. Common Skills, Traits, and Qualities that thought leaders share include:

a. Experience

b. Authenticity

c. Critical-thinking skills

d. Courage

e. Creativity skills

f. Awareness of industry trends

g. Analytical skills

h. Communication skills

i. Active Listening

j. Interpersonal and Cross Group Collaboration skills

k. Passion and Self-Motivation

l. Public speaking skills

m. Objectivity

n. Ability to Mentor and Coach

16 Mantras to Becoming a Thought Leader

While the term “thought leadership” is a cliche at this point, it’s still incredibly effective as a practice. Here are my 12 mantras to becoming a Thought Leader:

1. Define your niche and area of expertise

The journey to becoming a Thought Leadership starts with determining your superpower — your area of expertise in a Domain. You must first select the industry or area of specialization that you are proficient in and passionate about.

Solve a big problem. Choosing a topic or area that you know you can talk about for months & years to come is essential, as establishing yourself as a thought leader in any area would be a long journey. You don’t necessarily have to be an expert in the area just yet. It’s more important to decide on a topic or domain that you genuinely care about and that you can build your expertise in.

Develop and share your POV that clearly outlines your advice for readers and how they can use it to their advantage. Consider what makes a good leader in the typical sense. People turn to leaders for advice and their opinions on familiar events. They trust them for guidance. A similar stance should be taken when working to build a position as a thought leader. You want your target audience to trust your opinion and turn to you for advice, so you need to present them with that vital advice and perspective. You want to take the guidance position here, so reference your credentials and the evidence and research you have that backs your opinion.

Pro Tip: Don’t be a jack of all trades and master of none. That’s not a thought leader.

2. Share Your Thought, Expertise and Knowledge — Start Creating Content

Thought Leadership starts with eagerness to share and the ability to communicate your ideas and skills clearly and succinctly, appealing to the readers or listeners.

An individual may take one step to begin, even if it is as simple as writing a brief blog, group brainstorming, or shooting a short video. Take the first step without fear. It takes practice, but if you stick with it, you will grow better with time. You can follow these simple steps to get started with your blog:

a. Get your blog up and running.

b. Choose a name for your blog.

c. Personalize your blog. Create and publish your first blog entry.

d. Socialize your blog in your ecosystem

As a next step, look for relevant Digital Platforms and Industry Knowledge sharing network groups & platforms — having articles written by you published in industry magazines is an excellent method to do this. To do so, however, you must guarantee that the content is of good quality, properly edited, non-promotional, and adds value to the target audience.

Pro Tip:

a. Share your thoughts and expertise coherently and concisely that appeals to the readers or listeners.

b. The number one reason people tell me that they are not active in sharing their expertise is that they don’t want to appear to brag. For people who are nervous about being perceived as bragging, start with a simple share and Adopt the mindset that you are helping people in your circle rather than making a grab for attention.

Of course, writing your content, or producing your videos, is a great way to get attention for your ideas. But not everyone is a born writer; I am not a writer … but learning on this journey

Pro Tip: To get started in this area:

a. Curate from a range of sources. curate content from leaders who inspire you

b. Create habits and systems. Support your goals with a structure that works for you

c. Take a few minutes to jot down some topics or areas where your expertise could provide a new or insightful perspective. This could be a tiered list, with topics that you want to be associated with taking the top spot.

d. Follow your thought leaders on the different social platforms.

e. Be vocal, appreciate others’ work. Don’t Be Shy. Don’t just like — share your thoughts even if it is the contrary view or simply wow! Or Thanks for Sharing the note

f. The effectiveness of your thought leadership approach will be directly tied to how useful you can be when your audience needs you to be.

g. Define your goal and measure engagement with your posts

3. Be Forward-Looking, Authentic, Be Consistent

Effective thought leadership doesn’t offer retroactive solutions to yesterday’s problems. Instead, thought Leaders look ahead toward tomorrow’s problems to provide possible scenarios and solutions. Thought Leaders do speculate a bit — within reason — and takes risks.

Original research and Ideas offer you the chance to create a name for yourself within your industry or niche. Original research allows you to demonstrate your expertise by providing new insight into the field and offer tremendous value for building brand awareness. Humanizing yourself and your brand is an integral part of becoming a thought leader. Showing others who you are, sharing your vision, and providing high-quality content that is non-promotional can go far in establishing your authenticity. It’s about building lasting relationships and respect within your industry, both of which are key to becoming a thought leader.

Consistency is another essential ingredient for being a thought leader in your field. When you first start, keep a continuous flow of content production going, whether it’s through blogs or a podcast. Determine which industry blogs you can contribute to regularly or start a podcast with weekly episodes. The trick is to be consistent. Try making a schedule and post blogs or podcasts in a timely manner according to it.

Keep in mind, People interested in your industry also want to receive regular updates. They want to find reliable and authentic sources where they can turn to see the latest news about what is going on in the industry and associated ecosystem space and, more importantly, how it impacts them. To build yourself up as a thought leader, you want to be a key source of authentic news and insight for your prospective customers.

Pro Tip:

a. Publish consistently, build an audience, and tap into others’ audiences as well by contributing articles to influential outlets, whether a trade publication or larger business media platform (e.g., Harvard Business Review, MIT Technology Review, CIO, The Outlook, Entrepreneur, or Forbes.

b. Be authoritative and prescriptive in your point of view. If you are unsure about or can’t articulate your thoughts, you will not become a voice people can look to or trust.

c. A solid personal brand stems from a trustworthy, cohesive message that connects to your target audience.

4. Establish Credibility, Build your Brand

The key is going into detail. Being a thought leader entails bringing individuals behind the scenes. Show them what has been achieved and what hasn’t. Give them gritty, precise tactical detail, and watch how others react.

Pro Tip: Effective Thought leaders don’t jump straight into writing because they have something witty to say. They develop a clear strategy with well-researched goals, audiences, pain points, and solutions, along with a bit of nuance.

Becoming a thought leader requires leverage. Thought Leadership is about expanding your circle of influence. They not only lead their portfolio or company with precision, efficiency, and a moral compass but they become trusted sources within the broader community in the eyes of the public and those with whom they do business or compete. Thought leaders should follow a set of guiding principles.

a. Elevate corporate literacy within the industry.

b. Prioritize the human element over “corporate identity.”

c. Leave fear behind.

d. Pursue collaborative efforts.

e. Be in Active Listening mode. Listen as much as (or more than) you preach.

f. Work openly and seek outside participation.

Pro Tip:

a. Stop guessing. Cast your vision. Infuse Thought Leadership with Vision

b. Seek out speaking opportunities. This is an excellent way to network, show the results of your work for customers, and open up content opportunities.

c. Being a thought leader is about bringing people behind the curtain. Show them what has worked for you and what failed. Give them concrete — even unpopular, granular, tactical detail and watch them follow along.

d. Be transparent in your message, telling people the truth and back it up with facts.

e. Use your expertise in your industry as the foundation of credibility.

5. Find Your Voice — Respond to Questions Nobody Else is Responding

a. See what others are publishing and what’s missing from the conversation. Answer the questions that no one else is.

b. You must know the questions people ask as they move closer to conversion. This is the only way you will have the capacity to provide the answers they want to see.

c. Don’t sell yourself

d. Don’t sell your company or your products. Instead, answer your customers’ questions, teach them to do something new, give away your best advice.

e. Everyone has a slightly different style, so experiment, observe the influencers you admire or want to model yourself after, and find your voice.

f. Instead of simply sharing your views and opinions, participate in the dialogue.

6. Create a Distinct, Persuasive Point of View

Having a clear, convincing point of view is the most crucial step in becoming a thought leader in your field. If you are unsure of your ideas or cannot explain them, you will not become a voice that others can turn to or trust. In addition, because industries are continuously changing, it is critical to consistently educate yourself if you want to be a thought leader.

Pro Tip:

a. People have short attention spans. “Be brief, be smart, be gone.” Thought leadership is executive promotion — it is to get to the point.

b. Thought Leadership should be utterly independent of products, technologies, or corporate branding. It should be centered around a point of view (POV), a perspective, or an opinion about something happening in a particular domain. It should be first and foremost a catalyst for discussion

c. Smoke-test your messages using colleagues as a sounding board. Nobody resents the thought leader, leaving them wanting more or compels them to ask a follow-up question or seek additional information.

d. Know your Audience. Be mindful of the limited time you’ll be afforded with their attention and bringing value to them. At the same time, keep your messaging authentic and relevant.

7. Take Accountability — Stand by Your Message

Choose a clear message and stick to it. The most exemplary thought leaders are recognized because they keep to a clear theme and have good leadership skills, making it easier for others to understand what they do and why they do it.

Pro Tip: Find a specific message and be consistent; stick to it. The best thought leaders are known because they stick to a particular message and thus make it easier for people to discern what they do and why they’re doing it.

8. Exercise Self-Reflection

Self-reflection is essential in many aspects of life, including thinking Leadership. You’ll have difficulty discussing ideas with people if you can’t sit down and evaluate your thoughts, actions, and behaviors. This exercise will assist you in being more self-aware, which will allow you to perceive the larger picture while thinking broadly.

Pro Tip:

a. Know the value you bring. In other words, know what you’re known for.

b. If you’re not sure about your point of difference, gather some data. For example, what do your colleagues ask you about? What are the trends in your profession where you have insights? What new ideas are you excited to try?

c. Think of three broad topics that interest you where you can deliver value.

d. Reevaluate Your Niche every 24 months. Your niche dictates what you are, and your thought leader voice dictates who you are.

e. Be Desireless. Thought leadership is not about selling; it’s about helping. If you can’t separate the two in your mind when creating your content, you shouldn’t bother making it.

9. Use Simple Language to Add Value

Let your thought leadership shine through by keeping your writing simple. For starters, use simple words. Using straightforward and conversational language and responding to consumer inquiries have helped us stand out in our market. Yet, people are frequently perplexed and seek step-by-step instructions for creating a website.

10.Make Yourself Visible, Leverage Multiple Platforms

To become a thought leader, you must have indisputable competence and an omniscient presence. Find the right platform; publish your work, and then share it through social or business channels. To be successful as a Thought Leader, you’ll have to learn to become an effective marketer or salesperson for your work.

You cannot simply post on one platform. People should be able to observe you responding to their queries in a variety of ways. Therefore, attempt as much as you can realistically manage and be present in all locations where you get traction. For example, if you want to promote your blog post, use multiple platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Linked In, etc., to promote it.

Having a presence across multiple platforms makes it easier for your target audience. Your audience will see your content and hear your voice across various issues and on the platforms they frequent visit. This increases your marketing share and makes it easier for you to demonstrate your position as a brand of trust for your targeted audience

Put yourself out there and meet as many individuals in your field as you can. When it comes to any area, thought leaders aren’t always brighter than ordinary experts. The fact that they know the appropriate people and have access to the proper platforms to communicate their message and knowledge sets them apart. Participate in podcasts, groups, produce content and network with influencers. You can also improve your online visibility by using appropriate hashtags, posting regularly, sharing other people’s content, and using visuals.

Pro Tip:

a. Thought leadership can drive growth more “organically” than many other avenues

b. Thought leaders look to impart expert advice. However, to reach a vast audience, you need to have a sizeable following through your corporate or personal brands on your social media platforms. It will be challenging to establish yourself as a thought leader without enough followers — no matter how great your content is.

11. Listen and Learn from Others

True thinking leaders, unafraid to confess what they don’t know, make a concerted effort to learn and listen to what others have to offer. This is a tried-and-true method for staying connected with peers in your industry and broadening your expertise on a subject. The more individuals a leader listens to, the more ideas are likely to be shared, typically positive. Influential leaders realize the need to allow people to “listen in” in addition to “listening to.”

Pro Tip: Listen, Learn and Assert Yourself. Thought Leadership is built through a combination of experience, learning, and reflecting.

12. Know your Audience and Meet them where they are

To get any traction as a thought leader, you need to understand the audience you want to influence. It might be leaders in the organization where you work, in your broader profession, or even more comprehensive than that.

Becoming familiar with who is reading your content and who might seek the information will give you better insight into who your followers are. This way, you’ll be able to target your topics to a specific group instead of producing more general content than typical in nature.

Be careful: if you try to influence everyone, you will affect no one. A great exercise is to create a “persona” or “avatar” of your audience. Your persona description should include where they get information, how they pursue professional development, popular conferences, and podcasts, what they don’t like.

Once you define and understand your audience and how they get information, look at how you can best connect with them to share your ideas. This might be speaking at conferences, appearing on podcasts, or writing articles. Make a list of the appropriate outlets for you and build in interim steps.

Pro Tip:

a. Engage your community. Ask for opinions, feedback. Be open for criticism and, if required, connect at the personal level

b. Identify, What type of tone and voice will immediately resonate with people in your audience? For example, does your audience want a friendly and conversational style, or would they respond better to a technical voice?

c. Expand using your community but, don’t make it seem forced. Rather than “Please Share!” give them the initiative — for example, by saying: “If you find the article valuable or want to start a conversation, it would be great if you shared it on your platforms/network.”

d. Give Back by Making Your Knowledge Accessible for Others

e. While sharing your wisdom, the best possible outcomes are to start conversations and build relationships. Encourage both by engaging with those who choose to like, comment, and share your posts, and you’ll forge better connections.

13. Adapt and Keep Up with the Latest

Thought Leaders need to be adaptable to new information and developments; don’t assume your field or specialty won’t change as time goes on and new outlooks become available.

To become a Thought Leader, one should:

a. Use current trends, online information, and notifications to your benefit

b. Research your Thought Leadership field at least monthly, if not weekly, to learn what developments and information may have come about recently. Even if you think you know everything about your topic, you likely don’t, and that’s a good thing.

c. Keeping up with the latest industry news can also lead to unique insights that the business leader can utilize to benefit the firm.

The most outstanding Thought leaders are always up to date on what’s going on in their domains, which is especially important in fast-moving sectors like technology. This allows them to identify and evaluate market patterns and trends, which might drive ideas for attaining commercial solutions.

Pro Tip: I understand that Leaders need Gatekeepers, but don’t let your Gatekeeper be the reason for failure due to filtration of others’ opinions/views and feedback.

14. Coach and Mentor

Thought leadership isn’t just about expanding your reach or the reach of your network. Thought Leadership is not only about publishing your POV, but it also about coaching and mentoring others and position themselves as strong authorities.

Coaching and Mentoring strategy establish you as one of the top sources in your field and position you as equipped with the knowledge and insight needed to spread understanding elsewhere. Consider how people look to professors and others who educate novices on particular subjects. For example, people trust that a professor who teaches a marketing topic has a good grasp of it and can thus share wisdom with them.

Pro Tip: Think of the Next Generation. It is about teaching others the skills and lessons they need to innovate within your industry or another and move the needle forward.

15. Create an Advisory Group

Most of the time, Thought leaders can’t do everything alone. Instead, you need to surround yourself with people who will help you determine if your direction and decisions are sound.

Thought leaders can expand their reach outside of their industry by collaborating with other like-minded leaders or expanding their message to include broader concepts.

The advisory group will come in handy as you begin to create a body of work. Share early drafts for their feedback and plan to edit and revise heavily. Get feedback from people who will tell you the truth. Seek their input. Be truthful and transparent with them. A thought leader cannot thrive on ego. They are seeking something more significant than self-empowerment.

Pro Tip:

a. Use your opinions and Thought Leadership POV as your business card. Use your thought leadership content as a badge of expertise to expand your network.

b. Researching the existing thought leaders in your niche can help. Although you want to stand apart, it helps to understand what voices people already know and respect.

c. Partner with other Thought Leaders. No thought leader existed as an island. Look at many renowned philosophers: Each was influenced by earlier thought leaders and later influenced future generations’ work.

16. Follow 7 T of Thought Leadership

Think about these “7 T’s” as you craft your next piece:

a. Transformative, don’t be afraid of being controversial.

b. Thoughtful

c. Thorough

d. Truth with Testimony

e. Trustworthy

f. Timely

g. Together — Reduce, reuse, recycle

Special Considerations

As we progress on this new post-Covid world; some of the other qualities that Thought Leaders need to plan and address are:

a. Eliminate Bias from your Thought Leadership

b. Prioritize Humility and Empathy

c. Make genuine Human impact and fundamental change with your Thought Leadership efforts

d. Elevate your Thought Leadership by making an Impactful First Impression

Summary

Thought leaders are well-informed opinion leaders in their industry. However, being a thought leader isn’t about a fantasy. Thought leadership is essential for entrepreneurs, innovators, and business leaders alike because it demonstrates why your voice matters in your field. It’s critical to communicate in a way that shows your expertise and authority within your industry and become the person people go to for advice on a particular subject matter. If all the responsibilities are being met, Thought Leadership can only be positive.

Thought Leaders would always look for the Trigger points, what’s next, Defining the continuum and art of possible with evolving geo-political and technology landscape. A reputation as a thought leader comes to those who offer substantial value to their targeted audience. They have a unique opportunity to guide companies through a crisis with relevant, factual, and helpful content.

Those who generate engaging and practical pieces will gain recognition and followers as we all try to navigate these challenging times. Thought leadership is a story we can all learn from. Thought leaders are not easily replaced as their audience wants to learn more about the domain/industry and is looking for genuine brands they can trust to share their insight and understanding. But keep in mind, It’s not enough to be a thought leader. We need to be thoughtful leaders too.

--

--

--

Thought Leader. Mentor. Ex-Microsoft. Digital Transformation and Cloud Transformation Visionary Vice President, Avanade Inc

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

The Primacy of the Mission: Leadership Lessons from 12 O’Clock High

The Primacy of the Mission: Leadership Lessons from 12 O’Clock High — Mark Fasciano

8 Answers That Will Overhaul Your Leadership Culture

In a World of Sheep, Be Original

How Empathy unlocks Safety

Forget About Followers, Be a Man Who Creates Leaders

Where Have All The Leaders Gone? Why Most Companies Now Only Have Senior And Top Management Roles…

Leadership Forum

8 Quotes Every Leader Should Know

OKR: Organizational Change Required!

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Gaurav Agarwaal

Gaurav Agarwaal

Thought Leader. Mentor. Ex-Microsoft. Digital Transformation and Cloud Transformation Visionary Vice President, Avanade Inc

More from Medium

Don’t Hire a Former Employee Before Asking These Questions

Beware of “yes men”

Leaders Listen to Understand