Ever wonder how a thought leader becomes a thought leader? So have we.
And the one thing we know for sure: It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes hard work, dedication, and perseverance – and sometimes even a dash of luck.
But don’t worry. If you’re trying to establish a position of thought leadership amongst your peers, there are some things you can do that can help you get ahead of your closest competition.
Here are 6 of our favorite habits to learn from industry experts so that you can be one too!
1. Never stop consuming informationAll industry experts have a passion. And most spend their spare time acquiring an exuberant amount of knowledge about that passion.
Pick any niche topic and you can almost guarantee the top contributors are planning their next move — thinking and researching and getting ready to share something new, interesting, valuable, and unique to the world.
If you want to be a thought leader, don’t get left behind. Establish habits that allow you to keep informed and stay ahead of the curve.
You can start by reading — but remember information doesn’t only come in the written form. Try gathering new insights other ways too:
- Ask provocative questions on your social media
- Conduct surveys or other market research
- Converse with your colleagues
- Experiment with hypotheticals
- Listen to niche podcasts
- Watch video content
2. Take time to tell a compelling storyWhen is the last time you remember seeing something boring come from your favorite thought leader? Chances are you can’t — and that everything you have consumed from them has been engaging and enlightening.
That’s because stories are interesting and industry experts know the importance of telling a good story.
As a thought leader, your ability to wrap important messages in a relevant and appealing story will get you heard. Want to be remembered? Try weaving data and other proof into your narrative. It will support your credibility and make your point of view more memorable.
Seth Godin, a renowned author who extends his reach widely online, uses his Story of the Week blog features to drive home many important points. These posts highlight his most shared content weekly.
Pro tip: When sharing your thoughts, try to appeal to a wide variety of audiences by including lots of examples and other relatable content.
Not sure where to start? Here are a few tips on storytelling from the Content Marketing Institute:
- Great storytellers collaborate
- Great storytellers know who they want to enchant
- Great storytellers match the experience to the medium
- Great storytellers don’t let the medium distract from the story
3. Assert a distinct and different point of view
Thought leaders are by definition cutting-edge thinkers. So, as an aspiring thought leader, you shouldn’t be afraid to talk about your ideas openly and freely — even the ones that go against the flow.
Gary Vaynerchuk, a successful investor and entrepreneur, has gone beyond traditional platforms to share his message. With his own online documentary series, a global top 10 business podcast, and a business and advice Q&A show online, Vaynerchuk continues to deliver his innovative ideas to a worldwide audience.
The best thing you can do to communicate your expertise is to get comfortable with the idea of pushing the envelope. And, as any expert will tell you, the more you do it the easier it will become.
Pro tip: Try joining an organization like 1 Million Cups or Toastmasters to stretch the limits of your creativity and your comfort engaging a diverse group of people. There are local groups with regular meeting times all across the United States.
4. Be authentic and accessible
Being authentic and accessible means more than cranking out ideas and mindlessly sharing content. Great thought leaders make it a point to show up and teach, but more importantly, they listen and learn too.
The most successful thought leaders quickly find the balance between blatant self-promotion and leaving their followers contented with clear and actionable solutions to their biggest needs.
Take any list of today’s most influential experts and you’ll see that the personal brand they’ve built is trustworthy and focused on the needs of their readership.
Pro tip: The biggest step you can take in your journey to thought leadership is to get to know the people you are influencing, then find the value in the intersection of your passion with their pains.
Ann Handley, a digital marketing pioneer and the chief content officer at MarketingProfs, is a great example of an inspiring and influential leader who has used these kinds of opportunities to maximize her influence and build her career.
5. Build a communityNo true thought leader has ever declared themselves one. That’s because thought leadership is more than holding a unique opinion. It’s something you earn through the consistent delivery of content and by connecting with your audience time and time again.
In fact, the best thought leaders are always making connections. They don’t just build and grow their personal network, though. They take the time to introduce people to other people, and they seek out links between concepts and ideas and bring them together too.
Take Michael Stelzner, the CEO and founder of Social Media Examiner. Stelzner has built a huge community — across platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and more — of people who read his content, listen to his company’s podcasts, and attend their events.
So, what’s the best thing you can do to grow your community and make more connections? Build trust with your followers by publishing new content regularly – and sticking with it.
Pro tip: Extend your reach and continue resonating and engaging your audience after they’ve consumed your content by letting people know how they can get in touch with you.
If they have questions, be responsive. Answer your emails, engage with your social media followers and fans, and get out there and meet people in person.
If there’s only one thing you learn from thought leaders, it should be to act. Clarifying your passion to your followers by practicing what you preach is the strongest way to communicate that you believe in yourself and the power of your ideas.
Communicating your passions will command attention and trust, but for most of us, seeing is believing. The most influential thought leaders make it a point to show their audience how their ideas are relevant and help them understand what that means for them. Neal Patel, a top marketing influencer and entrepreneur, for example, does a great job of sharing best practices after he uses them to accomplish a goal.
As you move ahead in your own journey, make it a point to act on your propositions and promises, then share your accomplishments and get your followers involved to create momentum.
Pro tip: Apply for awards and seek to secure other kinds of recognition from your peers (for example, guest speaking). Your nominations and honors can become a platform for gaining recognition as an authority and inspiring change.
Yes. Thought leaders are passionate, visionary, courageous, and driven to act. But above all, they are excellent communicators who work hard to connect to their audience.
If you’re just starting out, take a minute to learn from industry experts in your field. Envelop their habits and best practices and let your community know you have something valuable to share.
If you’ve ‘been there done that’ – tell us:
- What are your best practices as a thought leader?
- What have you found to be successful?
- Are we missing anything?