The entire concept of thought leadership may sound rather New Age — or, at the very least, a modern concept developed for the social media age. However, thought leaders are not a construct of our hyper-connected modern world.
Thought leaders led us to explore space in the 1950s and 1960s, drove the Industrial Revolution a century prior, and have helped bring about virtually every major societal, political, and economic change throughout history. Innovation and significant shifts in belief and ideas require leaders to step up and show that it can be done.
Every industry, community, and group has thought leaders who ascend beyond the mundane or traditional status quo of leadership by bringing new ideas, information, and insights to the collective table. Most importantly, they bring a sense of trustworthiness to their industry and an engaged target audience.
Sometimes, becoming a thought leader simply just happens when a person emerges with a wealth of novel ideas, and people begin to take notice and follow their lead. Other times, thought leadership is more planned, and subject-matter experts put themselves and their ideas out there to influence and lead.
Becoming a thought leader can be a fabulous way to establish a brand or expand one’s reach into new markets. Here are some reasons why entrepreneurs and innovators should consider becoming thought leaders.
Influence and Recognition
The primary reason anyone would want to venture into the world of thought leadership is to have influence and gain recognition within their industry. By finding ways to better educate others in a specific field or niche area, influence can more strongly be built on a much broader scale as people will begin linking your name to certain insights. Perhaps you know all there is to know about social media marketing, but making yourself the go-to expert in this field gives you influence and name recognition, elevating your overall brand in the process.
However, if you intend to establish a thought leadership platform, it’s important to zero in on a specific niche first, as thought leaders who are too scattered in their message and goals will have a hard time resonating with a target audience. This will negatively impact one’s ability to be recognized in one’s field and confuse an audience seeking leadership.
If you want to exact maximum influence, think about the areas in which you excel. What is your heart drawn to? Where do your passions lie? What are you most knowledgeable about, and how can you help inform others on that topic? Those are the areas where you will likely be most effective as a thought leader.
Innovation and Change
Some industries need change more than others, but virtually all of them stand to benefit from innovative thought. Thought leaders drive change and can achieve meaningful results, whether through their own advocacy or simply furthering a business idea or marketing strategy.
Thought leaders inspire others to consider embracing change within their businesses and their lives in general. By leading the charge of celebrating innovative ideas and game-changing shifts, thought leaders make a massive impact on their industries or areas of expertise.
Think of prime examples of thought leaders — such as Steve Jobs — and consider the changes they have brought to the business world and society at large. Even if you don’t have your sights set as high as Jobs-level notoriety, you can still influence change within your target audience.
Networking and Collaboration
In our increasingly communicative world, networking and collaboration have become a more significant part of doing business and creating community. Thought leaders create communities and bring more people together to network and collaborate.
Most well-known modern thought leaders, like Gary Vee or Marie Forleo, host workshops or masterminds to bring like minds together, sparking innovation and better business processes within their industries. Similarly, many entrepreneurs know that networking with thought leaders can help them gain a competitive edge in their markets, so they may begin to seek you out for opportunities if you position yourself as a thought leader.
Once you make these connections, you can help people just starting out in your industry set goals and reach them in the best way possible.
While being a thought leader is beneficial for others, it can also be extremely beneficial for the personal growth of the thought leaders themselves. Becoming a trusted expert in your field can help you dive deeper into your knowledge base and interests, allowing you to get more in touch with how you live your life, and see how that lifestyle — as well as your business acumen and knowledge — can positively affect others.
The more authentic you are, the better your thought leadership platform will resonate with others. In a world that is overrun with people trying to be influencers, it’s the most “real” among us that will rise to the top.
Once you have established yourself as a thought leader, maintaining that position will require work, time, and attention. Continue to educate yourself, seek out advice and direction from other thought leaders, and keep an eye on your metrics and data on your reach.
The best thought leaders give back to their communities, are patient with the pace of their growth, and always remain humble and as authentic as possible. Through consistent and meaningful content and persistent outreach, one can build a thought leadership platform that enacts worthwhile change and influence.