Have you ever meet someone who seems so consumed with convincing you of his or her credibility that you quickly realize this person has absolutely no credibility? I often have that feeling when people tell me they are a “thought leader.”
Really? Did you get a degree for that? Is it on your business card?
Yet, that label is much-desired these days among people, brands, and companies. And that’s not a bad thing, right? Not if you actually are a thought leader.
And just what is a thought leader? Here’s my simple take: a person, brand, or company recognized by others as having innovative ideas and insights that either start or advance a practice in a particular field.
So, if you aspire to be known as a thought leader – which is a worthy goal for most business people – how do you achieve that goal?
Here are a few tips:
Put the right label on your soup
When we go to the grocery and pick up a can that’s labelled as chicken noodle soup, we expect to open it later and see that it actually contains … wait for it …chicken noodle soup. And what if there’s no soup? Just beets or okra or split peas or an old sock? Whatever trust we had for the soup maker suddenly disappears. And we go hungry … unless we like to eat beets, okra, split peas, or old socks.
Don’t affix the thought leader label to yourself if you don’t really provide thought leadership. Your credibility is on the line, and your reputation is far more important than whatever benefit you’ll get from some contrived self-promotion. If you’re the only one calling yourself a thought leader, then, by definition, you’re not. Remember, you don’t have to be seen as a thought leader to be successful, and it’s far worse to be seen as a poser.
Earn the label
If you have something worth sharing with others, put it out there through blogs, social media, videos, podcasts, speeches, and any other way you can find to spread your message. Give it all away, and you’ll reap the rewards in earned trust that leads to earned business. But make sure that your ideas are either advancing your field or creating new ways to practice. Real thought leaders provide amazing value because they offer insights that really help others succeed. Do that, and your reputation will be hailed by others. People will come to you for advice and perspective and you’ll sell more of whatever it is you’re selling. That becomes the best kind of PR: a widely touted, viral leadership reputation in the communities that matter most in your market.
Promote the entire aisle
Give visibility to others in your field and advance their ideas and practices with your own point of view. For example, write about one of your competitors in a blog post, link to them, praise what they’re doing right, and then add your point of view to raise the game to another level. (Like I did in this blog post called 7 Business Thought Leaders to Follow).
Thought leaders promote important thoughts, not their self-importance. The starting point, of course, is to do the hard work of becoming an expert so that you can develop “innovative ideas and insights that either start or advance a practice” in your field. If you have the ideas and share them selflessly, the reputation will follow.