How to Become a Thought Leader: 6 Essential Steps to Establish Credibility
Many visitors to Serious Insights ask How to become a thought leader. This post offers six fundamental steps every thought leader must traverse.
Learn how to create a thought leadership strategy here.
1. Establish credibility
Thought leaders offer a unique perspective. They own their voice. They write with authenticity and authority. The first step toward thought leadership requires action. Doing something, then documenting the journey to that outcome. Thought leaders don’t just establish that they know something, they can tell a good story about how they came to their knowledge.
2. Create visibility
A thought leader’s ideas need to exist across channels: books, blogs, posts, tweets, videos, podcasts, etc. The best thought leaders will target the channels that best represent their known audience, but they won’t neglect the other channels. Thought leaders also rely on serendipity (see Welcome to the Serendipity Economy). Active engagement in new or underserved channels may inspire the formation of an audience where one did not previously exist.
3. Show responsibility and accountability
Thought leaders also need to be thoughtful leaders. Credibility means that what a thought leader says makes sense—applying a thought leader’s advice leads to experiencing positive results.
If a thought leader, however, acts irresponsibly or fails to accept accountability for his or her mistakes, their perspective or influence on a domain may come into question. A thought leader always wants the area they focus on to be about the topic they represent, not them.
4. Stir it up
Some thought leaders relish controversy. Even the ones who find a balance between controversy and vision bring about more questions than those who stay within a narrow narrative (see Demonstrate Agility below). Thought leadership should make people think, that is the derivation of the term.
One way to go about doing that is to avoid a standard presentation with a script that repeats at every event. Know the material, talk to the topics, but include new observations, new questions. Share with the audience your own struggles in understanding. Thought leadership is not about declarative knowledge being imparted from on high. It is about humans coming to a space to learn together where the thought leader acts as the guide because they are most familiar with the territory.
5. Curate Accessibility
Find your way of being found. Although some thought leaders enjoy the hermit life, most talk, coach, and advise. Establish your online presence with a website, LinkedIn profile, Facebook page, Instagram account, YouTube channel, etc. Consider an automated scheduling tool so people may proactively reach out and schedule one-on-one time with you.
6. Demonstrate Agility
This is the hardest of the thought leadership “ilitis” as it imparts the idea that the “expert,” the thought leader, proves willing to let go of his or her existing framework to either apply it in a new area, or to acquire new knowledge to fit emergent situations. Thought leaders need to avoid lockin when they see that their ideas are evolving. Good thought leaders will share their learning and bring people into their learning process.
How to become a thought leader: the bottom line
Thought leaders reflect a wide variety of traits and skills. But for those seeking to become a recognized thought leader, these six steps describe the foundation. Master an area, own the mastery, communicate well, don’t hide, take responsibility, and keep adjusting as you encounter new ideas, concepts, and cultures.
How to become a thought leader? Gain a unique perspective and communicate that perspective. Be involved in the learning firsthand. Be active. Become a continuous learner.
For more thought leadership advice from Serious Insights click here.
Daniel W. Rasmus
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.