Takeaway: To be recognized as a true thought leader means you are confident and clear in your purpose, and everything you do is true to your authentic self. You practice consistency and discipline and speak to what’s on the mind of your audience.
It’s not nearly as difficult to make a decision as it is to stand by it and stick with it. To say or think something is one thing; standing by it is quite another. This gets at the bones – and the heart – of thought leadership.
Anyone who aspires to become a thought leader in their industry should consider: Are you firm in your purpose and beliefs? Are you staying true to yourself? Are you willing to shout about and defend your purpose?
To be a thought leader, you must have a unique point of view and consistently live it. You must demonstrate strength and discipline in all your actions. You must anchor clarity about your purpose. That’s how you become known for something, productize it, and even monetize it.
What Is a Thought Leader, by Definition?
Let’s start with the basic definition of a thought leader. This is a person who is specialized in a given area and whom others in that industry turn to for guidance. As the term implies, a thought leader leads others in the thinking around a given topic.
A thought leader can be an individual or an organization and typically stands out among competitors. As noted in an article from Forbes, a thought leader is “one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.” The authors also incorporate a second part to their definition, wherein a thought leader “significantly profits from being recognized as such.”
These days, though, there are plenty of folks out there who fancy themselves thought leaders and who, by definition, have earned that title. And we could sit here and define what a thought leader is all day – but that doesn’t really encompass what it means to be a thought leader.
What Is a Thought Leader, Really?
To be a thought leader is more than profits or even industry status. It’s about being authentic and empowering. It’s about influence, getting other people to think differently about something specific. It’s much more than just generating content and commenting on world events and trends – thought leaders bring alternate views and insightful points to the table.
As former CNN war correspondent and Obama speechwriter Aneesh Raman says, true thought leaders must be authentic, relevant, insightful, and new, and they must focus on only a small set of issues. These leaders should speak on what they’re passionate about and have experience with, and their thoughts should be pertinent to the industry or audience. They should attach their conversations to what people are already talking about.
Another critical factor is authentic curiosity. While thought leaders are experts in something, one must be open to listening to others and learning more. When this sense of curiosity is combined with their existing expertise, they can genuinely bring enlightened perspectives to their audiences.
Thought leaders are confident and convincing in their convictions. They provide unique viewpoints that serve to provoke creativity of expression and often challenge the status quo. They push people to change or challenge their thoughts and ideas.
How Can You Become a Thought Leader?
Start by being your true, authentic self. When you’re true to yourself – to your strengths, talents, and passions – others will take notice.
For others to view you as a thought leader, you must exhibit strength, service, discipline, and consistency. Create a steady flow of thought-provoking, relevant content on your channels. Stay active in conversations. Use a consistent voice that’s confident, persuasive, and credible. You need to earn the trust of your audience, not just build it.
Focus on these 3 Keys: purpose, values, and story. You need to know what you stand for, what beliefs guide you, and your unique narrative. You must be willing to defend and articulate your purpose. Clarity of purpose allows doors to open and emotional connections to form, even deepen, more quickly than on average.
Never Miss an Opportunity for Thought Leadership
As the saying goes, “Three things never come back: the spent arrow, the spoken word, and the lost opportunity.” Let your voice be heard, and don’t miss the chance to connect with others about your shared purpose and unique contributions to your industry.
You will only become known for something when you can successfully and confidently share your unique point of view and communicate clarity in your purpose. Your audience, and business success, will follow.