“Thought leadership” might sound like one of those buzzwords that doesn’t mean much, and it’s certainly a subjective term—however, when running a business, having attributes of a thought leader can make the person and business more successful. Thought leaders are more than just great leaders. They’re revolutionaries and experts in their field. They’re the ones others not just in the company but in the industry and general population turn to for leadership. Sound intimidating and tough to achieve? It certainly can be.
Influential and authoritative, there are two primary routes to becoming a thought leader. The first is several years in an industry complete with a stunning professional record, likely an advanced degree, and a smattering of fame. This is where the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs come into play. Even someone in a very non-tech career can name these experts as thought leaders.
The second option is more feasible: Become authoritative in your niche. It’s going to be nearly impossible for the vast majority of people to be seen as a thought leader in a broad field or subject like “smartphones” or even running shoes. However, being a thought leader in a smaller niche, especially with a local geographical focus? That’s a little easier.
How Do I Become a Thought Leader?
You can’t get a certification in thought leadership, nor can you dub yourself a thought leader. It’s one of those titles that has to be bestowed upon you, first by others in your field and maybe, eventually, by the public at large. The first step is to become the best and more knowledgeable in your field. This can be done via traditional educational approaches, years of experience, continuing education, and so on. Next, you need to showcase and prove that you’re the best.
Fortunately, there are many avenues to show off your knowledge and skills. The more visible you are, both online and offline, the better. Manage your reputation and offer to guest blog, make sure all websites have impeccable search engine optimization (SEO), blog, write books, network and stay on top of your social media. The more people who see you and know you as an expert, the more likely you are to earn the title of thought leader.
How Will This Impact My Business?
It doesn’t matter if you’re a small business owner, entrepreneur, or work for someone else’s company. Anyone can be dubbed a thought leader. However, thought leaders are especially sought out because of the notoriety they bring to the position and business. Thought leaders are PR dynamite, and their presence in a business can attract better job candidates, investors, collaborators and business partners. Thought leaders are more actively recruited than others, and oftentimes they enjoy a much better pay and benefits package.
Thought leaders can draw attention to a business, quickly make it be seen as more authoritative itself, and the fame that surrounds a thought leader will naturally be shared with any business they’re connected with. The right thought leader can skyrocket a relatively unknown business to semi-fame. Thought leaders usually already have a strong following, especially online, and with the help of SEO linking thought leaders to businesses those followers will start to connect with and check out the businesses.
Balancing Management and Thought Leadership Nurturing
Working towards being a thought leader can be a full-time job. How can a thought leader (or one in the making) stay on top of those efforts and still manage a business? Triaging priorities, an incredible amount of ambition and drive, and seeking balance are all key. Time management strategies need to be perfected, perhaps with the help of a time management expert. Business management and thought leadership are symbiotic, intertwined positions. When one does well, it benefits the other—and vice versa.
If a thought leader is hired by a company, but then slows down their thought leadership fostering, the company will likely wonder what happened to the candidate they hired. Thought leaders are often hired in large part due to their position as an authority in the field. When that authority starts to wane from neglect, the thought leader isn’t holding up their end of the bargain. Of course, when a thought leader isn’t fully managing their responsibilities within a company, that’s not fair either.
Being a thought leader and managing a business are twin positions that go hand-in-hand. You likely won’t see many thought leaders who aren’t managing some aspect of a business. The good news is that if you aren’t already seen as a thought leader, you have time to strategize how to incorporate thought leadership building qualities into your life as a business manager. Be aware of how much you can bite off and chew to avoid burnout.