You Are a Thought Leader If You’re Doing These Three Things
Every few years, a new industry buzzword bursts onto the scene. The latest and greatest of the bunch appears to be “thought leader,” a term with a somewhat hazy definition. From LinkedIn to Twitter to website About Pages, it seems just about everywhere has their fair share of “thought leaders” in their field. But what exactly is a thought leader, and how do you become one?
What Is a Thought Leader?
There’s quite a definitional dispersion of the term thought leader. Something everyone appears to agree on is that a thought leader doesn’t have to be an individual — it can also be a firm or organization. Among the various definitions scattered across the Internet, two other interpretations ring true:
- Thought leaders tend to be the most successful or influential individuals in their respective fields. So, while there are bound to be thought leaders for crowded industries such as finance or tech, there are also thought leaders for more niche markets.
- Whether you’re an entrepreneur, employed within an organization, or represent an association as a whole, becoming a thought leader can significantly positively impact your career.
So, what exactly does a thought leader do? According to Forbes, a thought leader is an entity that clients, referral sources, intermediaries, and even competitors recognize as a foremost authority in a selected area of expertise. As such, a thought leader becomes the go-to resource for said expertise.
Nowadays, becoming a thought leader is also synonymous with becoming an industry influencer. Industry leaders take to social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to share helpful tips, practical advice, and personal anecdotes related to their area of expertise. These posts are often accompanied by blogs, articles, videos, or related shareable content the thought leader utilizes to extend the reach of their message and grow their audience.
Three Must-Have Qualities of a Thought Leader
It’s simple to post a one-minute video explaining why you’re the best at something or why your audience should trust you. It’s a bit harder to convince the audience that you’re the real deal. Considering how many self-proclaimed thought leaders are posting content regularly, viewers have become more selective when deciding which industry leaders they should put their trust in.
If you want to become a thought leader in your industry, it’s paramount you represent these three key qualities:
1. Clarify Your Area of Expertise and Stick to It
A thought leader is not a Jack or Jill of All Trades. Instead, they’re highly educated or experienced in a specific field. The most successful thought leaders are those that niche down within their own industry to become a master of what they preach. Consider Jeffrey Bartel of Miami, Florida. Jeffrey Bartel is the chairman and managing director of Hamptons Group, a real estate investment, private capital, and advisory firm headquartered in Coral Gables.
Before Hamptons Group, Jeffrey Bartel served as a top executive and corporate officer at Fortune 200 companies and was a partner at two of Florida’s top law firms. This experience laid the foundation for his consideration as a thought leader. Today, he’s on the adjunct faculty at two universities, where he draws from his life experience to teach life and business strategy courses to MBA and law students.
Like Jeffrey Bartel, all thought leaders must clarify their area of expertise — and stick to it. A thought leader is steadfast with their industry knowledge and tunnels deep into their niche to uncover all there is to find.
2. Never Stop Learning (or Listening)
Just because a thought leader is well-versed in their area of expertise does not mean that they simply stop learning. The most inspirational and creative minds continue to seek opportunities to grow. In this way, a thought leader can ensure all the information they present is timely and relatable to their current audience.
Similarly, a thought leader never stops listening to those around them. Fresh ideas can spark anywhere — especially during conversations with other industry leaders. As new innovations come about and ignite conversations, it’s a thought leader’s responsibility to tune in and listen. No single person knows everything, so a thought leader must actively seek moments to learn and listen to other bright minds.
3. Don’t Force Your Agenda onto Others
Most importantly, a thought leader will never shove their business down a reader’s throat. Instead, a reader should want to follow up with the thought leader’s business, if only because they’re inspired by what the thought leader has presented. It’s a thought leader’s role to provide actionable information, not look for a profit.
There’s a fine line between thought leadership and self-promotion, and you must not cross it. Once you begin plugging links to your products or shoving your agenda at your audience, your content flips from information to infomercial. A thought leader provides advice and helpful tips, perhaps even drawing inspiration from anecdotes regarding their business, but refrains from pushing their business at their audience.
Remember that mentioning your career and your business is okay, but you should lead with what you offer, not the products or services your business sells.
Standing Out as a Thought Leader
Becoming a thought leader isn’t something that happens overnight. More often than not, it takes years of hands-on experience, education, or mentorship to reach the point where you can truly become the go-to resource for specialization in your industry. But by adhering to these qualities presented by thought leaders, you’re certainly on the right track.