A thought leader is an individual that is recognised as an authority in a specialised field and whose expertise is sought after and rewarded.
It's an enviable position many experts aspire to (and business leaders will want their people to aspire to).
Subject matter experts often have years of qualifications and valuable on the job experience. But all that accumulated knowledge and understanding is no good to anyone if it stays locked in their heads.
Positioning yourself or your people as thought leaders isn't easy. But there are a few simple things that can set the stage for success.
Here are 7 simple steps that anyone with aspirations of thought leadership should do in the first month to start positioning themselves as a thought leader.
1. Set yourself up to look like a thought-leader
Take a couple of moments to set up your digital profile for success. We usually recommend Linkedin & Twitter as your starting point. Use a consistent image, a description you are happy with and a handle that makes sense (eg @sampage21). You might want to get rid of any embarrassing old activity or keep your professional social media accounts separate.
2. Start building your audience
It’s easy to think of a digital audience as numbers of likes and comments. The reality is quite different. The people behind the clicks matter. The first step here is to connect with the people you know and interact with.
Clients, suppliers and industry contacts are the best place to start. Don’t be shy here - we are in 2018 and its normal to be connected with the people you know. Eventually, you’ll want to reach out to other industry leaders, event speakers and authors.
It's also important to connect with your colleagues, they are the loudspeaker for your content. If you are writing content useful for their network of clients and contacts - you’ll build a wider and more engaged audience.
This audience is what matters, aiming at the world at large is a tall order for thought leadership. Writing for a small community of people that are important to your role is far more realistic and more effective.
3. Write your first piece
Your first post is unlikely to go viral. In fact, you’ll be lucky if any of them do. You need to remember your small community and write for them.
It can be intimidating and overwhelming, often you can feel like an impostor when you are making content, particularly early in your career. Creating your first post is the hardest, as you become more adept at reaching your audience content will come more naturally.
Do not load up too much pressure onto that first post. Get it done and focus on learning and improving for the next.
4. Be visible
A well-written insight that goes nowhere is a waste of time. Use those social channels from step 1 to reach out to your audience. In addition to sharing your own content, it's useful to be commenting and sharing on the work of others; it keeps you visible and builds useful social credit with others to do the same for you.
Engaging with other's content can also be a fuel for writing more of your own material.
5. Set a realistic goal
It may seem a little late to set your goal now, but after creating your first post and spending a little time to get to know your audience, you’re much better positioned to set a goal that makes sense.
Keep your goal simple, one post a week is plenty and a few of the right interactions with each post is how you build momentum.
6. Make an effort to find outside inspiration
As a thought leader, your role is to find and comment upon industry news for your audience, explaining what it means for them. You won’t find that industry news on a blank piece of paper. You’ll find it at conferences, industry networking events, client meetings and in writings online.
7. Get in the habit of writing for one person
Writing for the world at large is a tough ask. When you write for a single person, you force yourself to write something relevant and useful for them. Chances are that advice is relevant for others as well. Don’t name the person but keep their challenge in mind - you’ll be sure to produce something that resonates with them and others.