Being a thought leader is different than being perceived as one. Many claim to be a thought leader. But thought leadership is conferred, not claimed. Rather than simply posturing, here are some challenging things that most eventually do to truly be recognized as thought leaders.
- Have an original thought. Consolidating everybody else’s thoughts and agreeing with their conclusions is hardly thought leadership.
- Add something new to the conversation. Are you an innovator in your area of expertise? One clue you might be a thought leader is when others start quoting you because you’re saying something that either hasn’t been said before or you are adding a new dimension to the idea and/or the way you say it.
- Give speeches that people are willing to consistently pay to hear. That doesn’t guarantee you’re a thought leader, but it is better evidence than speaking for a local civic group meeting and purporting to be a thought leader because you got a free gig.
- Write a really good book. In the age of the internet, self-publishing is very easy. Even publishing a traditional book isn’t that hard. Selling lots of the book you write (regardless of how you publish it) is very hard. Even marketing by itself won’t likely sustain a mediocre effort. If you write a really good book that benefits others, that increases the odds you might actually be a thought leader.
- Practice what you teach. It is tough to be a thought leader in any area where you don’t have real world experience. If you’re going to be a thought leader in sales, you probably should have had a successful career in selling and ideally innovated the sales process in some way. And to stay current, you either need to keep practicing or embed yourself with clients who are doing what you talk about.
- Do some research. Researching other research and synthesizing it has value but it isn’t primary research. One of the reasons that Jim Collins is a true thought leader is that he does the hard and exhaustive work of designing, administering and analyzing original research.
- Know what other thought leaders are writing and saying. Do you know who are considered the seminal experts in your arena? What are the best books written on the subject? Are you involved in the professional organization or association of your profession? No thought leader is an island.
- Study hard. Think hard. Deep thinking is hard and that’s why it isn’t often done. No intellectual pain, no thought leader gain. Superficiality is the curse of thought leadership.
At the end of the day, there are far more thought followers than thought leaders. There is nothing wrong with finding and distributing good ideas. That in itself can be a noble and worthwhile activity. But creating the perception you are a thought leader is far easier than actually doing the hard work of becoming one.