At some point in your career, you’re likely to find yourself in a period of transition – whether that’s redundancy, waiting for promotion, or simply
Are you a thought leader? You should be.
Putting your views and expertise out into the world for others to read and benefit from can be an excellent boost to your leadership career. Here we break down the why and how of becoming a thought leader.
There’s so much noise out there. The only way to get cut-through is to be consistent in putting yourself and your personal brand out there.
As a specialist in leadership development, one of the concepts we talk about all the time is becoming a thought leader.
A thought leader is an established expert in a field, who people come to for advice, commentary and other similar opportunities.
So why is it important for leaders, both emerging and established?
For a start, thought leadership means you are at the top of your game and you’ve honed your craft. It shows others you’re not only good at what you do and get results, but you can articulate this to others.
Beyond that, being a thought leader puts your leadership traits on display. For example, it shows people listen to what you say and value your input, and you are a person who is forward-thinking, tuned into the world at large and able to respond.
Becoming a thought leader is one of the biggest steps you can take to boost your leadership career.
What makes you a thought leader?
The important thing to remember about thought leadership is it has a snowball effect – once you start building a regular following on a platform like LinkedIn, then other opportunities follow, such as speaking slots and media interviews.
Remember though that thought leadership not as simple as waiting around for someone to ask you for your opinion.
Those coveted speaking slots and other golden opportunities will come eventually, but first you have to build your profile and personal brand.
It takes time and consistent effort – regardless of how senior or knowledgeable you are. There’s so much noise out there. The only way to get cut-through is to be consistent and considered in putting your views out there.
This means you don’t just turn up at a conference and network once, or post an article or two and once. You have to contribute good content and articles regularly, go to events consistently, and make a genuine effort to add to the discussion.
Think of people you admire or follow in your field and why they are thought leaders. What sort of tactics do they use? Can you emulate them, while providing your own unique perspective?
Is it risky?
One of the biggest barriers to executive thought leadership is fear. However, there’s no reason to worry provided you keep it positive, refrain from bad-mouthing other people or organisations, and follow any social media policy your employer might have.
“Putting your views out on social media can be daunting, and most of us experience that ‘cringe’ when we press the publish button, at least at first,” says Alexandra Vanags, senior content writer.
“However, it’s important to be confident in your expertise. You’re in your position for a reason, and you have knowledge that will be of interest to someone. I always say, everyone’s an expert in something.”
Once you realise this, then you can start to break down the barriers to putting your views into the world.
How to start a thought leadership program
To become a thought leader, it’s important to first take a step back and think strategically, says Alex.
This means contemplating your audience first. Who are you targeting and what do they want to read?
“Audience is important, as it will impact a lot of other choices you make, such as where you post your content and the tone and language choices you make. Afterall, if you don’t write for your audience then they’re unlikely to read it,” she says.
Then, it’s about working out what you have to say. This can sometimes seem tricky, but the key is to persist.
“I always tell people to start with a brainstorming session. Draw on what materials you already have. What questions do you get from clients and your staff? How do you describe what you do to others? What issues in your field are you passionate about?”
Next comes the writing. Alex says it’s quite common for people have concerns about their writing skills, but they should not let it hold them back.
“Don’t get too caught up in trying to make the writing super fancy. All it needs to be is clear, and free of mistakes. So write simply and proofread carefully,” she says.
“If you find it’s taking up too much time or energy, you can also consider outsourcing the writing to a professional.”
And the final rule – post consistently. Use a content calendar and plan around three months in advance – with some flexibility to substitute new ideas if needed – to make it manageable.
“I always say starting a thought leadership program is easier than keeping one going long term,” Alex says.
“You have to be committed. Have a plan and stick to it, blocking out time in your diary every week to get it done. That way, it won’t fall to the bottom of the to-do list.
Download this checklist for starting a thought leadership program.
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