Many people in a wide range of business roles have the potential to become thought leaders. It’s not restricted to big names who appear in media interviews, get quoted frequently, and land book deals.
By thought leaders, I mean people who, first, have a strong, credible, and unique point of view that helps drive improvement and innovation within a specific area of business. Second, thought leaders share their insights and actively expand their credibility with public written and spoken thought leadership.
Right now, from wherever you are in your career, you can start to lay the groundwork for becoming such a thought leader with just four simple steps. Anyone from C-level executives to mid-level professionals can begin to position themselves as industry thought leaders. While seniority might influence the balance between breadth and depth of perspective, the foundational steps for thought leadership are relatively similar.
Look within: Spend some significant time asking yourself why you want to position yourself as a thought leader. The right answer will depend on your needs and aspirations. In most cases, there will be many reasons. You may want to contribute to high-impact marketing for your company, build out your CV and strengthen your career, participate in the conversation in an area that excites you, bring needed improvements to the world around you, and more. Introspection, discussions with managers and mentors, and structured interactions with coaches can all help you through this process.
Get specific: After you ask why you want to do it, your next question comes down to “why me?” Take a thought leadership inventory of what you know, your skills and domain expertise, your work experience, and your inner strengths. Be as focused and specific as you can. One major challenge is looking at yourself from a bit of a distance. Sometimes, the things that you take for granted and the bits of knowledge that seem obvious to you can be a big revelation for others. Use introspection and interactions with others during this step as well.
Be differentiated: With your thought leadership inventory in hand, do some research on other thought leaders who have gotten traction on those topics. They may be peers, competitors, well-known industry experts, and others. The main reason for doing this is so that you can tailor yourself and your insights better. You make them into something that people don’t know, ways of thinking that people haven’t thought of before, answers to questions that don’t yet have many good answers. An additional benefit — you build your intelligence about who has already headed down the thought leadership path by seeing what they are doing and how.
Put down a few stakes: The way that most of the outside world recognizes a thought leader is by their digital footprint: what comes up on web searches, news searches, Twitter, LinkedIn, industry directories and forums, interest groups, etc. The specific sources vary by area. Some of these will be different for a more technically-focused crypto expert than for someone focused on open banking, regulatory strategy, etc. You can start to lay the foundation for your own thought leadership by putting down a few stakes in these various channels.
- Amp up your LinkedIn profile so that it captures your expertise, not just your titles and career history.
- Use LinkedIn to share industry articles and insights you come across. These don’t have to be your own articles. One day, however, they may be!
- Commit to self-publishing insights frequently, be they on your company website or blog, your blog, a site such as Medium, or published as LinkedIn articles. You can step up to this–once a month, then twice a month, then more often once you develop the muscle. Stay tuned for a longer post from me on this topic in the coming days.
- Get social on social media. I mean this in the most general sense, beyond just LinkedIn. The right channel for you depends on your expertise and goals. But in any of those channels, take the “social” aspect seriously. Take time to like and comment, make connections, and otherwise interact with others.
One caveat, however — with any of these tips, be sure you understand any compliance considerations that affect what you are permitted to communicate and any communications policies that may apply to you if you are employed by a company or organization.
A reputation as a thought leader is within your grasp. It takes a bit of effort, but resources such as courses and coaches can help you get started and take the first steps.