Thought Leader can sound both exciting and vague, like a meaningless title bestowed on a senior executive or someone who’s mastered the newest social media platform. But perhaps thought leaders are people we want to know about, listen to, emulate and be inspired by, and can be found in all walks of life.

The Thought Leadership Lab says this: “Thought leaders are the informed opinion leaders and the go-to people in their field of expertise. They are trusted sources who move and inspire people with innovative ideas.” This makes the concept a lot clearer.

What’s really interesting is that thought leaders can come from anywhere and exist in any industry. It’s easy to imagine that the term applies to software developers and new-age thinkers, but in fact it applies to people who have spent years honing their knowledge and understanding of their field. This makes it easier to identify the people who interest you, or perhaps realise that you could be a thought leader yourself.

Thought leader

Have you come up with an exciting product that could change the world? Vacuum cleaners revolutionised life for housewives, and Sellotape made life easier for office workers, post office staff, warehouse operatives and more. But even if your product is not so universal, you can still become a thought leader in the specific community whose need is served by what you have. They want to know how it improves their life and what it means for the future.

What are the Benefits of Being a Thought Leader?

Being a thought leader offers greater opportunities in business, increases awareness of you and your brand, and the chance to give back. There are lots of online guides on how to become a thought leader, and why you should do it.

This article from Forbes Magazine outlines very briefly how being a thought leader can bring benefits, including book deals and speaking opportunities. I recently read the Dorie Clarke book mentioned in this article, and it’s definitely worth a read. The people she interviews, such as Gary Vaynerchuk, are well-known in the online community and often for their social media and marketing expertise.

But she does outline how you can become a thought leader and even take what you’ve learned in one industry to apply it in another field entirely, with the idea that a fresh approach can make a significant difference. Read the article here.

Thought leaders are usually the first name that springs to mind when you think about a particular field, such as David Ogilvy (advertising) or Seth Godin (Marketing). If you’re that first person, this can lead to increased interest in what you do and more customers for your business. It can be a real boost to your reputation and helps people know they can trust you and it’s great PR.Thought leader leading a group

Other benefits are that it reinforces your brand and serves as your USP. If you work for a company (and thought leaders are often in charge of an organisation) it can be a boost for all of your staff. It also helps you differentiate, particularly if you’re in an overcrowded marketplace and can lead to business growth.

You can also charge higher rates for your product or service and as you’ll be in high demand, you may have a waiting list or create exclusivity by limiting the number of clients you’ll work with or the number of items you produce. You may also find yourself leading the industry into new areas or trying the next big thing first.

How could you become a Thought Leader?

One key element to becoming a thought leader is building a network of enthusiastic fans, whether it’s blog readers, customers of your product or service or social media followers. If you don’t engage people, how will they know you’re out there? Building up an audience can take time, but if you’re consistently sharing your experiences and helping people, you will develop a reputation. If you’re an expert in a particularly small niche or one of the few people talking about it, the process can be quicker. When your opinion is sought out and your expertise is valued, then you know you’re on your way.

Demonstrate your knowledge of your subject by producing in-depth white papers, for instance, where you explain it clearly and concisely. Consider what challenges face potential customers, users or others who want to work in the field, and offer solutions. If you’ve had years of experience in a role or area, you know what the pitfalls are as well as the positives, and can articulate them. This adds to your credibility and shows you know what you’re talking about.

It’s useful to continually learn more about your industry, and if you can, work with mentors and other influencers. Learn as much as you can from them, and seek their advice. Attend courses (online or in person) if they run them or invest in their programmes. If you’re able to work with them at all, it will help your credibility as well.

Consider having your blogs or articles published somewhere – write a guest post for someone in a related field, or submit a piece you’ve written to the industry publication. Get your name out as much as you can. Develop a strong online presence and make sure it’s promoting your personal brand, rather than the company you work for.

You should also inspire people, whether by encouraging them to start a new business or try something new, or because you’ve overcome problems and still succeeded. Show people that you want them to make positive changes in their lives or the lives of others and always be open to learning new things.