Thought leaders are the foremost authorities in their field. They are the go-to people, renowned for their ideas and trusted for their insight. Thought leaders have industry clout, but no one is born a thought leader. The British author, Sir Kenneth Robinson, said, “You can't be a creative thinker if you're not stimulating your mind, just as you can't be an Olympic athlete if you don't train regularly”. Sure, some people are born with a capacity for original thought and creativity, but no one becomes a thought leader unless they are prepared to do the hard work and know how to create a reputation for original thinking.
Know your Stuff
The first piece of advice I want to give aspiring thought leaders is know your stuff. This may sound obvious. You might think you know your industry inside out, but you also have to be across every new development and theory. You need to read widely and frequently research industry trends. What are the most influential and respected websites and magazines in your industry?
Get to Know People
Next on the road to establishing yourself as a thought leader is getting to know the other movers and shakers in your industry. Hopefully you already have some contacts. You may have met industry leaders at functions or through trade websites. Your aim is to befriend some of these leaders. You need to find a small collective of respected thought leaders, who are prepared to work with you. You may meet up for the occasional drink or lunch and swap ideas. You also need to be reading their blogs and articles, and learning how they think and what they believe. You must also study how they operate and create their profiles.
Build your Profile
You can’t become a thought leader unless you have a profile. You may have the most dynamic creative thoughts in the world, but unless you share them with a following you aren’t a thought leader – just an introverted genius! For most of the year I have been espousing the virtues of blogging. You must have a professional looking blog and Facebook page and these pages need quality content. Ideally you need at least 30 articles that comment on industry trends and developments. These blogs should be accompanied by some images of you at work. You might also want to list your industry experience and career highlights on these webpages. Remember to be constantly promoting your posts on social media and share them or email a link to friends, colleagues and associates. Create an email mail-out list. A list like this is invaluable and takes years to build up.
Get in the Media
To be a thought leader you need to aspire to more than self-publishing. You should be offering to write articles for industry or trade publications at no charge. Phone the editor and ‘pitch’ a story idea to them. Offer to have it written up within a week. Before submitting your article, study the magazine or newsletter and try to write in the same style. Have someone with a fine command of English re-read and proof your writing. It never looks good to submit work riddled with spelling mistakes. Consider also submitting articles to community newspapers and contacting a community radio station to do a segment. This sounds like a lot of work, but you can post every article you write for a magazine or newspaper onto your blog or Facebook page. Remember you retain the copyright of your work. You should also be trying to have content published on important industry websites. Find out who edits these sites and get in contact.
Have a Quality Social Media Presence
Make sure you have a sharp social media profile, especially on LinkedIn and Twitter. Again have a detailed description of your experience and career highlights. If you read about an industry trend in a newspaper or see a segment on TV and think you could have added some information to that article, contact the journalist who wrote it or the TV shows’ producer. Be courteous and polite and make your point. Give your contact details to the journalist – a mobile phone number and email address. It’s unlikely the journalist will do a follow-up piece the next day, but the next time they’re writing on the subject they may call you.
Become a Networker
To become an influential thought leader you also need to be a good networker. You need to always be widening your professional and social network. Go to as many social and industry events as possible and meet as many new people as you can. Ideally you should be thinking about appearing as a guest speaker at industry events from time to time. Needless to say you need to study public speaking and have a killer presentation before getting on stage. A bad public appearance can damage your reputation. Consider joining a group such as Toast Masters, which trains people in the art of public speaking.
Create a Movement
Once you’ve built a reputation as a thought leader and you have a level of influence, you have to be seen to be breaking new ground. That means becoming bolder and advocating change and improvement. If you read widely you will come across initiatives trailed overseas but not yet introduced here. Write a blog or article or do a presentation at an industry event on the merits of introducing these changes to your locality. Always credit the website or researchers that inspired you. You do not want to be accused of plagiarism.
The most important thing to remember when seeking to establish yourself as a thought leader is that Rome was not built in a day. It will take work. Also there will be setbacks along the way, but you have to keep going and be committed. Every couple of months assess what strategies are working for you. Are you getting lots of columns published in industry newsletters and frequently speaking at industry events, while your blog is not getting many hits? If that is the case, devote more time to writing for trade publications while simultaneously promoting your blog more widely. Put your blog address on your business card!
At the end of the day, to become a thought leader, you don’t just need to be an inspiring thinker. You need to be an inspiring thinker who creates inspiring content that people notice.
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.