First of all, what is a thought leader and why does it matter in the business world?
A thought leader often refers to an individual (or sometimes a firm) that is recognized as an authority in their unique business niche and whose expertise is often highly valued and sought out within that business niche.
The reason this matters is that it’s important from a branding and repute standpoint to be stand out as a credible industry expert with rich knowledge and curated opinions of value on select topics to contribute. This allows us as entrepreneurs to stand out, differentiate ourselves in an otherwise crowded marketplace, and to be sought after as experts and authorities with value to offer clients, the media, and our peers. You don’t typically call yourself a thought leader; it’s an acknowledgement that others grant you. Bottom line: someone who rises above the din and is probably worth listening to.
I first started paying attention to its importance courtesy of one of my mentors, Alan Weiss, who is highly regarded as a thought leader himself — and someone who encourages the high-end consultants he works with and coaches to do the same. Alan, for example, is highly prolific — he has published over 60 books (& counting) over the past three decades, several of which are bestsellers and have been translated in multiple languages. And among his many other achievements, he’s one of the National Speaking Association’s (NSA) most coveted and sought after speakers. He’s become a thought leader.
One of the ways I’ve taken it on myself is through regular content marketing. You both need to have something of value to express (a unique point of view, adopt a stance) on select topics of which you are an expert or have something to contribute on a regular basis — AND you need to create a body of work that is hopefully evergreen and adds value to your audience and the greater community over time. Let’s be clear that when you do so, it’s not talking about yourself (though I encourage you to use examples and case studies from your own experience), nor is it about promoting your company directly – it’s about coming from a stance of authenticity and credibility, having the conviction to express yourself where you share insights of value to others in your community on topics that are relevant and of interest to them.
Over time as you do so, you build increased trust and credibility, and you create a body of work in the process that can be re-purposed across multiple products and services. For example in my case, I regularly publish a monthly newsletter, several podcasts a month which I host, a couple of these blog entries, and I also publish articles in select magazines online a couple of times each month. Periodically I put together a book and publish that (I’ve got a couple books commercially published and others that I’ve self-published which are mostly made available on Amazon in eBook, audio and print on demand formats. These are all opportunities to have a voice, share something of value to my community, and to differentiate myself and stand out in a crowded marketplace. Judging by my results it’s worked well over the year — relative to offers to have a column in prestigious publications, offers to speak at industry conferences & events relevant to me and my target audience(s), and by generating additional business.
Consider whether it makes sense for you to adopt some form(s) of thought leadership to stand out in your field as an opinion leader to differentiate yourself and your business! I encourage you to try it on.