If you stood a chance of dreaming to become a Thought Leader, then read on…
If you are still skeptical and in self-doubt, here is a cue from Michael Porter, the management guru,
“You don’t have to be the best. You just have to be different.”
That brings us to find out ‘Who is a Thought Leader?’, and how to set oneself apart from the noise?
Now, do you believe in yourself?
Just like the maidservant, Cinderella stood a chance to try the glass slipper and become a princess.
Why Do You Stand A Chance To Become A Thought Leader?
“Thought leadership is at the center of a strong executive-positioning plan. It focuses on an idea or problem that you are passionate about, and that you will continue to be passionate about no matter what industry you work in or job you have.”
– Cheryl Kim
As I read this, I picture a stubborn entrepreneur and an adamant kid.
- Again, both have a strong executive-positioning plan.
- They focus on the problem that they are passionate about.
- They will continue to be passionate, no matter what!
Breaking down the definition brings me to a dormant reality — each one of us stands a chance to be a Thought Leader.
What is Thought Leadership?
In the digital age of impulsive purchases and instant gratification, thought leadership is abused to be the sum total of the number of likes, followers, shares, comments, and so on. To me, they only carry social validation but do not really speak about the authority or thoughts of the leader.
To me, a thought is a culminated manifestation of cumulative experiences, beliefs, perspectives, and influences that belong to a person.
To battle contradictions, attract attention, build a voice, establish clout, and create ripples around one’s own thought is Thought Leadership. This is what distinguishes a thought leader from a mere subject-matter expert.
Evolving into a Thought Leader
Who is A Thought Leader?
Look at this list. This is a personal one and need not resonate with others.
When I imagine a person listed on the left-hand side, I think of the equivalent words on the right-hand side.
Now find a word for yourself.
You = ?
Honestly, the words associated with them is not because, they told the world how good they are at it, but they showed how to get better with it. It because they found their ‘niche’.
To me, a thought leader is someone who builds a thought that is a culminated manifestation of cumulative experiences, beliefs, perspectives, and influences that belong to that person, and is willing to lead her way to realize it in action.
Step #1 to become a Thought Leader is to ‘find your niche’.
Dorie Clark in her book Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It, recommends to identify and build on a Niche.
Here are a few names that either equates to a single-word or phrase. You may or may not have heard of all the people in this list. But if you google the words mentioned, you would find this person. A simple litmus test to help you understand how important it is to build a niche.
Some Inspiration from Thought Leaders
Indra Nooyi = Women Leadership
James Clear = Productive Habits
Roger Dooley = Neuromarketing
Jess = Craftingeek
Carson Tate = Workplace Productivity
Daaji = Heartfulness Meditation
Devdutt Pattanaik = Mythological Fiction
Use this Model to Figure Out Your Niche
You cannot figure out your niche over a brain map. Note down the following that pertains to you.
What Are Your Skills? Your skills of different levels of expertise: Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced
Your Passion and Interest? Your skills need not be the same as your passion. Your passion may lie in an area where you lack skillsets. If you don’t have them at all, then start from scratch.
Your Industry? What is your core industry such as healthcare, retail, manufacturing, and so on?
Your Domain? This could again differ from your industry. For instance, though your industry is healthcare, your domain could be modeling, finance, or research. Similarly, if your industry is retail, your domain could be labeling, design, or writing.
For instance, when I ran this exercise, I wrote down the following. So, I chose my niche to be ‘content strategy for B2B MarTech businesses’.
Now, that you found your niche, the next step would be to find that single word or phrase that people could associate you with.
One Word or Phrase That Describes Your Thought Leadership
Some of my friends associate meditation with me, some are reminded of singing, while few others think of a new parent or otherwise marketing. But, if I were to step out among my target audience, they would recognize me for ‘Content Strategy’.
So, what is that single word or phrase that describes your Thought Leadership? Here is how I arrived at it.
Create a Premise and Priority: Your Priority can be only ‘ONE THING’. Not more than one. That’s how you eliminate the rest. Use a premise that attends to your priority. My premise was to be found and recognized among my professional network.
This eliminated many things that I listed while finding my niche. It brought me down to ‘ONE THING’ — marketing. So, what in marketing. I have always enjoyed and loved the content side of marketing.
Check Your Passion and Skills: For me, it was like first love. Marketing is always something that I liked to do, and my skills supported my interests.
If this doesn’t happen to you right away. Then, please go back to the previous step, re-draft your premise and relook at your priority.
Choose Domain and Industry: The domain I chose is writing. The industry is marketing technology (martech).
These cues took me to ‘content writing for marketing technology companies’. However, I knew I could not last long as a writer. I need to find an evolved form of writing that will help me add real value in the real world. And, that is ‘Content Strategy’.
So, that lets me thrive to be a Thought Leader as a Content Strategist.
You could further create a specialized niche. Like, in my case it is: Content Strategist for B2B MarTech Cos.
Now, that you have one word for yourself, let’s move further. List down different activities and tasks you should involve in to emerge into a Thought Leader.
What is Individual Thought Leadership?
“I am a product manager. I took this role in the recent past. Now, I see myself as a brand. I need to establish authority over the topics and industries that I deal with every day. But, it does not seem as easy as it looks. I need to position myself among my peers as a specialist in what I do. What describes me? What makes my peers feel comfortable talking to me about it.”
You could replace the designation with yours in the above story. And, this is probably how you feel when you are trying to build your own thought leadership.
There are two types of Thought Leadership. An individual’s and an organization’s thought leadership. Let’s first focus on the Individual or Personal Thought Leadership.
An Individual’s Thought Leadership helps a person establish authority over a topic that she frequently associates with. This could be in a personal capacity or tied to a brand, a large organization, a community, or an ecosystem.
So, here is a list of activities that you can take up in order to emerge as an individual thought leader. You need to choose what best suits you. The combination of activities you choose is as unique as you are.
Firstly, choose a context. Find out if you are able to solve the problem of your audience, by doing any of the following. I have mentioned a few categories of people who meet each context.
- Teach a skill that the audience seeks.
- Update information that your audience would not find anywhere else
- Develop a taste for Creative work, an eye for analogies
- Help them find resources: people or anything else.
- Help them build connections
- Raise money
- Opinions, reviews, interviews provide information that will save time for the audience
- Some Fresh Thinking: I created this because I could find a better word to bucket the titles mentioned here.
The list indicates that building Thought Leadership largely depends on the type of content and information that you are able to provide to your audience. Choose one of them for yourself.
If you need some inspiration, here are a few lists that you could explore further based on your interest and strength.
Top Characteristics Of A Thought Leader
To lead an audience, you need to own a number of small acts that touch your audience, or one major act that moves your audience to respond.
Some skills and characteristics are a must. You cannot escape learning and acquiring them. The lists of Thought Leaders showcase how each Thought Leader has a different degree of expertise in one of the skills mentioned below. These skills should emerge as your second nature, mostly that define to be components of your character.
The characteristics can be encapsulated into three scenarios — when you are placed in a one-to-many, one-to-one, or many-to-one engagement with your ecosystem and audience.
If you are not the reading type, there is an infographic at the end of the article that summarizes this article with a checklist.
Stay in touch with the media. It includes everything from monitoring news coming from your industry, scanning the environment for key events and trends, and staying in touch with journalists, PR agencies, and media traders.
Find groups, communities, and events that are hosted for your audience, and to help your industry. Participate in these events to network, speak, learn, interact with your audience.
Right from local to national events, you get to find many opportunities to speak before people. But, first, dig into your immediate network to be able to capitalize on the closest speaking engagements. As a part of the Thought Leadership course, you will be also be introduced to how to find speaking engagements.
Take a look at the Thought Leadership lists. You will notice that thought leaders are often involved in some or the other type of content creation activities. Writing a book, a newspaper column, e-books, or blogging, illustrating, or video making. They choose one type of content and start developing on them over a long duration.
Engaging with your audience personally is a luxury. Social Media enables this. Start conversing with people on any one social media channel to begin. If you like something, don’t be lazy to just like it and leave. Share your opinion, comments, and feedback. Except for a handful, many people appreciated when I did this. They love it.
You always have a chance to mentor other colleagues in your organization. Some customers, audiences from speaker sessions, and so on seek advice and direction all the time. When someone approaches you, you stand a chance to become a mentor and carve your niche of thought leadership.
There is no dearth for the need for inspiration. Knowing other Thought Leaders would always help. Knowing them in person is even better. I have my list of thought leaders who I would love to know about and stay in touch with. Create your list of thought leaders and keep them ready.
The free course on Thought Leadership would soon deal with it too.
The reference to ‘One’ is YOU. Everything here gets directed back to you.
If you are a marketer, the term social listening is a quick connect. But, if you are not, here is an introduction to social listening. The concept of social listening got institutionalized after the emergence of social media platforms and digital communities. It is a process of listening to what your audience is talking about you and your associate brands or topics of interest. This helps in gauging the sentiment across the digital audience and manage your reputation.
Listen to the experiences of the other person, rather than assuming that you have more to speak about. This helps in developing an empathetic view towards different problems in your niche. The more the better. However, some of these experiences may be extremist views and highly opinionated. Sieve off the skewed variants from the generalistic ones.
Step out of the Ptolemic view that “the universe revolves around me.” This is where humility begins. You could be capable of many aspects but it cannot gain recognition in the absence of an audience.
9 Successful Habits & Qualities of Thought Leaders
Did you hear about the discovery in epigenetics? Are you wondering, “What has Epigenetics got to do with habits of Thought Leaders?”. It has some good news for you. By changing the way you think and by choosing the type of proteins you feed yourself, you can change the pattern of thinking right at the micro-level of your DNA.
This means that, the way Thought Leaders think has got to do a lot with the habits and deliberate attitude that they have adopted. Here are some of them.
There are so many things happening in your own niche. Especially the overnight success stories, new technologies, scary disasters — all add up to the anxiety in the making of a leader. But, albeit their existence, thought leaders do not let themselves react to each of those distracting news. They chart out a plan and stick to it. They focus only on those aspects that matter to the success of that plan and nothing else!
Often, Thought Leaders are referred to as being open. Honestly, I would call it having a ‘wide radar’. In fact, Thought Leaders bring about strong theories, opinions, and frameworks that fuel their ideology. They have a wide radar rather than interests to evolve their ideas for cross-cultural acceptance.
Fluid Yet Strong
They keep a strong balance of fluidity and strength. They come with validated judgments and are not reactive or judgemental about people. But they are opinionated. What do I mean by this? They definitely bucket people to make the right use of them. I might sound rude but it is not a bad thing to know what each person in your network is good at and not so good at. At a time of crisis, this information comes in handy.
They don’t count the number of books that they read. They just read. They read everything and anything. However, you could step into a phase of life where you would like to structure your time and make the most productive use of it by only choosing to read very relevant books. For that, you can use the tool called the Reading Algorithm.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear in an interview by Indra Nooyi that she would set aside time to complete a course in coding or language! Why would the CEO of Pepsi need to learn something so basic? Well, the higher you climb up the ladder, it is all the more essential to stay connected to your learning anchors. Learn something new. The grand 5-hour rule that most successful leaders follow attune them to cater 5 hours every week to learn something new .
Charismatic and Magnetic
You can’t ignore their presence. Their core beliefs reflect in the way they speak and conduct themselves. This quality eases out when they meet new people, helping them to expand their network. They genuinely work towards building great relationships. They make eye-contact, modulate their tone, are not offended easily, take time out to help people, are empathetic, and use stories and anecdotes to enrich conversations .
I borrowed these words from another magazine that describes the Growth Mindset, “This mindset allows others to feel free to come forward with ideas as well as questions, and encourages them to readily embrace feedback from others. Perhaps most importantly, when your team feels free to share with you, it positions you to pre-empt failures or mistakes before their impact becomes severe.” 
A Growth Mindset allows you to pay attention to what is most important for now, but not ignore the matters that could be opportunistic in the long-run. Shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
Culture emerges out of a collective consensus of beliefs, values, principles, and traditions. A Thought Leader creates a culture of her own. Sometimes, it is so strong that a Thought Leader, just an individual becomes a whole culture. Such strength comes from an immense clarity of purpose. Thought Leaders constantly try and answer the “WHY?” of each decision.
The foundation of building a transcending culture lies in the core values and principles. This builds the ethos for the rest of the audience. It becomes an integral part of your personal brand.
Predictability and Routine-makers
Routines help you gain predictability over each day. 80% of a day is driven by the schedule that you have charted for yourself. There is always room for contingencies and emergencies that alter your day’s predictability. But, that would be only 20%. If the ratio is topsy-turvy, then you need to check why your day is prone more to handling emergencies and not your own schedule.
To sum it all, Thought Leaders are contagious.