We’re all guilty of throwing around the terms “thought leader” and “thought leadership.” These days the terms are so often used that we forget what they actually mean.
In fact, Inc Magazine states that the term "thought leader" is one of the most misunderstood titles in business. Tied for first is the term "influencer."
Is sharing content on social media considered thought leadership? Do you need 10K LinkedIn followers to reach the status of a “thought leader?” The short answer is no. We all have the ability and opportunity to be thought leaders just by educating, improving, and adding value to our industry as a whole.
What is a Thought Leader?
Google the phrase, “What is a thought leader?” and you’re hit with 997,000,000 results in 0.67 seconds. The three definitions that we like to keep in mind for this term are:
One whose views on a subject are taken to be authoritative and influential.
They’re trusted sources who move and inspire people with innovative ideas.
An individual (or brand) that prospects, clients, referral sources, and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.
Things NOT Required to be a Thought Leader
Thought leaders come in all shapes and sizes, across industries, roles, and more. If you're wondering if you have what it takes to be a thought leader in your areas of expertise, here are some things to remember that you do NOT have to be in order to be a thought leader...
Be of a certain age
Have a certain amount of experience in that field
Be in a certain role
Know everything about a particular topic or industry
Create “perfect” content
- Be the only person in that niche or industry who is a thought leader
How to Become a Thought Leader
Calling yourself a thought leader and actually taking the actions to be one and then being seen in that way - are two very different things. Being a thought leader takes hard work, dedication, and some creativity. During a recent virtual meeting with our team, we asked what it takes to become a thought leader and what a thought leader does. Here’s a visual of what was brainstormed:
To sum this up — there really isn't a roadmap that you have to check certain boxes in order to be seen as a thought leader. Everything brainstormed in the above visual, plus a whole lot more, is valid and important actions you can take. But what it does take is action.
For some thought leaders — they focus entirely on one form of thought leadership. Maybe they have a podcast or are very committed to guest blogging on industry websites. Or maybe they speak regularly around the same topic at conferences. What all these examples have in common is that they are sharing their expertise and insights freely with people who can benefit from that information. The channel or format can differ but the purpose remains the same.
As a good first step, start looking at the voices you listen to. This includes those in your industry, at your company, or even for hobbies you follow. Why do you listen to these people? What are they doing or saying that gives them authority? Why do you and others trust them? Finding what resonates for YOU and why you're drawn to specific people and ideas will help you carve out your own path for thought leadership. Then all you have to do is start. Start creating content, start having a voice, and start sharing your expertise.
Thought leadership can transform your career, brand, and business. It can position you and/or your company as leaders in your industry, open doors to new opportunities, and build lasting trust with the people in your audiences who matter most to your company.