What does it take to be a thought leader?

Being a “Thought Leader” is a common phrase exchanged in the Corporate environment in the modern times. Especially in the modern social ecosystem context everyone has a POV. Sometimes just having an idea or POV is perceived or misconstrued to being a thought leader in the concerned space. In the space that I work, I often tend to get invited or my opinion / POV is sought at a certain recurring regularity, and I do hear the phrase “Thought Leader” being used (sometimes too liberally), as a prefix to my name. I have struggled understanding what it really means – What it takes to be a true Thought Leader? What correlation does it have to the concept of Personal Branding? Is there an investment that one needs to make to keep the Thought Leader brand alive…..

While browsing through Glenn Llopis’s blog I got an opportunity to download an e-book on this, and it a fascinating read.

<Excerpts from the e-book, Why a Personal Employee Brand will save your career – and your workplace, by Glenn Llopis>

1. Define and Manage How Other People Experience Your Personal Brand.

Before you can become a recognized thought leader, you must define and manage how other people will experience the following four characteristics of your personal employee brand:

a)     What is your brand’s enduring idea?

b)     How will your brand best differentiate itself?

c)     What is the primary experience your brand will deliver? d. Who will your brand serve?

2. Identify the Methodology that Defines the Problems Your Personal Employee Brand Solves.

You may be knowledgeable about a particular subject matter, but have your experience and insights given you enough breadth and depth to earn the right to propose solutions to a wide array of problems in your area of expertise? As a thought leader, your personal employee brand must support a proven step-by-step methodology that defines the approach for the problems your brand solves. Your methodology must be able to show how to overcome the most challenging set of circumstances.

3. Manage Your Thought Leadership Profile.
A thought leadership profile is your management tool that keeps your personal employee brand, methodology and subject matter expertise updated, fresh and relevant. This profile should be a living document that you update on an ongoing basis. If your thought leadership profile becomes outdated, your content begins to lose its momentum and your community will lose interest. Your thought leadership profile is the tool that helps you start relevant, timely and sought-after conversations with your community.
The following are the primary elements to include in your thought leadership profile:

  • Subject matter expertise/specialization
  • Problems that my thought leadership solves
  • My methodology
  • Target audience
  • Industry pain points
  • Industry opportunities/ROI outcomes
  • What my audience needs to hear
  • Targeted media outreach
  • Conversations and topic ideas for articles, blogs, tweets and video blogs.

4. Write it Down! ShareYour Ideas and Experiences.

Seasoned thought leaders know that writing and sharing of experiences is a natural extension of their leadership role and responsibility. Convert concepts into practical applications that support your methodology. Be innovative in your thinking, yet simple in your writing style. Don’t limit your audience.
Be provocative, yet objective. Your responsibility is to start a conversation and propel a dialogue that will continue inside and beyond your community of readers.

Your writings should consist of blogs (250-600 words), articles (1200- 1400 words), white papers and case studies (2500-3500 words).

In your thought leadership profile, prepare a list of topics of conversation that you would like to share with your audience. Create a list of useful resources to support your writings. Demonstrate that you can articulate complex issues in terms that a broad audience can understand and apply. Show your audience that you care about the problems that it is trying to solve. Assemble a “knowledge vault” of materials that support your writings to further demonstrate your commitment to solve your audiences’ problems.

Finally, allow your community to connect with you personally in your writings. Share personal stories that support your content themes. People want to connect with your voice in ways they can relate to personally. Sharing your personal identity (within reason) allows for a more purposeful and meaningful relationship to blossom.

5. Speak and Speak Some More.

Writing is your starting point to speaking and articulating your thought leadership ideas and ideals. Identify trade shows and conferences that customers and industry influencers are attending and participate on panels or lead workshops. Find out about the local associations that host speaking events and offer to give a keynote or sit on a discussion panel.

Your ability to remain active as a speaker is critical to becoming a sustainable thought leader.

When speaking, focus on providing useful information. No one wants to listen to you pitching your product. You are there to inform and educate, to provide a unique perspective. Again, it must support your methodology and you must manage the experience you want others to have of your personal employee brand.

6. Create a Blog and Activate Your Social Media Tools.

Create your own blog and activate your favorite social media tools (ie. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.) to make it easy for your community/audience to follow your writings, upcoming speaking engagements, trade interviews, media appearances,

etc. As a selected voice that represents your organization, your blog and social media tools must be a prominent and visually appealing outlet that supports an interactive exchange of knowledge and ideas with your community.

Your thought leadership blog and social media presence increases in value the more people know about it and link to it. The more social media ready you are, the more visitors you will have and you will multiply the reach for your content. Your blog should feature all of your content to include:

  • Articles/blogs
  • Video blogs
  • White papers
  • Case studies
  • Podcasts
  • eBooks
  • Media interviews
  • Access to your social media tools.

7. Share Your Secrets and Build Trust with Your Community.

Make it simple for people to access your content. In the end, thought leadership is about building a trustworthy relationship with your community. You begin to lose that trust once you appear to be holding something back. No secrets allowed!

Though your community may not always be responding (in the form of commentary), they are reading and listening to your words carefully. Your content (regardless of format) is generating a two-way communication stream of thought, ideas and trust.

As you provide more content, they begin to expect certain things from you as they experience your personal employee brand. Don’t disappoint them. Share freely and encourage them to respond and provide feedback.

Empower your community through crowdsourcing. Share your voice and allow them to share theirs. You want as many people to know about you as possible. Create a reputation for being transparent and open. Share the harvest of your knowledge and be generous with your subject matter expertise. If not, the market will favor someone else who is.

8. Cultivate Relationships with the Media.

Don’t leave it solely to your PR agency. As a thought leader, you should have a list of 15 writers and editors who regularly report on your industry market. Journalists are very busy people, always on a deadline. So, when you call you need to give them something that they can use to make their life better and easier – a lead, a story, some insight, a quote, customers to whom they can talk for quotes.

Points 1 – 7 will help you earn respect and the opportunity to be covered by the media. Remember that the media’s job is to find relevant content that will appeal to their audience. The more relevant and time-sensitive your voice is, the faster you will be discovered and the media will find you. If you deliver when called upon, they will continue asking for more.

Don’t wait for the media to find you. You must be proactive in building relationships with the media. Research media outlets and key contacts that would benefit from your subject matter expertise. You can always hire a PR agency, but when getting started it’s best to get your hands dirty and learn how the media really works yourself.

9. Control Your Google Identity and Relevancy.

In today’s business world, people initially experience your personal brand identity and its relevancy as defined by Google. When you Google a person’s name you immediately create an impression of that person based on what you read
and its context.

So who is controlling your Google identity and relevancy? Is it Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Twitter? Or, is it your blog and its articles, video blogs, white papers and all of your original content that supports your methodology and what defines the experience of your personal brand?

As a thought leader, you must become best friends with Google. You must be accountable to manage how Google positions your personal employee brand and subject matter expertise. This inherent responsibility is important not only for your own personal benefit, but more so for your community.

How do you control your Google identity and relevancy? Follow points 1 – 8!

10. Make a Commitment to Thought Leadership!

The sharing of ideas and insights do not require your organization to have market share dominance or millions of dollars. In today’s new normal, content is a commodity and readily available. Thought leadership is a difference maker. Your generosity and transparency can help you outsell your competitor. It can lead to higher margins. In a world in search of trust, it’s all about people and your thought leadership will expand the breadth and depth of who you are as a person and how others interact with you.

We are transitioning from a knowledge-based economy to a wisdom-based economy. It’s no longer just about what you know, but what you do with what you know. It’s about trust, transparency, opening up your heart and leading with kindness.

Thought leadership is another form of corporate social responsibility. It’s about leaving a legacy and earning the respect of your community.

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