Do you find people asking what you think? Picking your brain when at a loss as to how to proceed in your industry? Are you that person, the one looked to and sought after?
Perhaps you set out to become an influencer, to spread your opinions and thoughts to others. Perhaps you simply found one day that you were an influencer.
Now is the time to take the next step. To seize the momentum and learn how to become a thought leader. While an influencer exerts from below and within, a thought leader explores new territory and takes markets with them.
The power of leadership is both difficult to amass and takes temperance to wield. This guide will lay out six important tips for shaping your regime into a legacy.
How to Become a Thought Leader
Becoming a thought leader isn't to be taken lightly, and as the great Plato quote goes, those that seek it are ill-suited for the job. However, if you find that you wield influence and generate buzz, you should expand on that starting point.
This list gives a sequential, but overlapping set of tips to follow to codify your status as a thought leader.
To get even this far, you have to have discovered you have an innate something people are responding to. From here, you need to rededicate your interests and advocate for your industry.
After all, you can't be a thought leader of a thing you don't understand and don't stand for.
Advocating is about addressing the good and the bad. You illustrate the changes involved to express a working understanding of the 'why' across the board.
You can't be a leader without being an authority.
Advocating doesn't end with knowledge, it also requires you to ring the bell and shout in the town square. You need to practice expressing your knowledge in a way that promotes without alienating.
2. Spread the Word
You know your stuff, you have a voice, you can express your views succinctly and with aplomb. Now is the time to spread that word and expand the following.
This is the marketing step of the process, where you sell the brand that is you to the masses.
You want to give just enough, not too much. The idea of 'leave them wanting more' comes into play. If you express that you have said everything there is to say, you become irrelevant.
You also risk losing credibility. Nothing is that simple and being thorough and exhaustive on a subject are two different things.
3. Carve a Niche
You don't have to tackle the whole of your industry in a day. You shouldn't even try to talk about all of it all at once.
Find a niche, one likely inspired by your initial influence and expand on that.
Niche markets exist because it is a big world filled with a lot of different people. You don't cast the widest net when you can, instead, build the better mousetrap.
By courting a niche market, you have a space to firm up your opinions and to directly relate to the audience. This gives you a firmer standing when you take your message to the wider world.
4. Grow a Network
With your following set, your opinions firm, and your elocution skills sharp, you need to interact with others to expand.
This isn't just about expanding your audience, but about expanding your professional credibility. Attending, and eventually speaking at, conferences helps with this. You find a group of people with similar idea and interests, though different niches, and start a group.
This group allows you to make a bigger splash with less individual effort. It also shows good leadership as you work with others to create more. Networking is an art and a skill, check out some ideas on staging your own conference with your group to start a full-blown movement.
5. Court a Following
To go beyond your niche, you need to expand the media of your message. Whether you started with a blog, a column, a video series, what have you, it is time to go outside of that.
Keep your core start strong and consistent. Whatever you started doing, keep doing. On top of that, add more outlets and channels. Your newfound network of associates helps with this, as they have new outlets, and new audiences, to reach.
As a thought leader, your ideas need to permeate to have the desired effect. Permeation is about two things: width and depth. You want as many people as possible to hear your message, but you need to keep your message relevant. The surface level details may hit on more people's radar, but without the insight, you aren't leading, just pandering.
This step is the longest of the ones listed here. A meteoric rise happens for many then stalls out as they can't maintain an audience and strengthen that audience once the 'hot new thing' veneer fades.
This final tip starts as early as you feel you can handle it. You've come far, spread your message, tightened your rhetoric, expanded your media.
You know what the industry is about, how to address naysayers and critics, and how to inspire those that know.
From here, you have to take the ultimate step of a leader and face the unknown. It isn't enough to be the big fish in the small pond, you have to lead the expedition into the uncharted waters.
To do this, you need to have a destination in mind and an understanding of who to gauge if you have gone too far. Listening to critics, especially those in your own camp tempers the innovation to stay visionary without going crackpot.
Keep in mind, you aren't just trecking through unknown territory. You are inspiring and laying down the groundwork for others to follow and build in your wake.
Don't Stop Here
When you set out on your journey, focusing on learning how to become a thought leader, you may have felt everything was fresh and new. Over time, that motivation may fade.
Take heart, and look for new sources of motivation as you go. If you think what you are doing is important, it is important to see through to the finish.