What do The Guru, The Expert, The Maven, The Trailblazer, The Leading Light, The Practice Leader, The Heavyweight, The Opinion Shaper, and The Influencer all have in common? These are all other examples of what to are commonly referred to as “Thought Leaders.” Some may say it’s the latest buzzword by calling experts and influencers "Thought Leaders," but buzzword or not, Thought Leaders have been around way before the buzzword came to use. Thought Leaders are the go-to expert among industry colleagues and peers. They are the influencers that lead direction within an organization, and sometimes they can be that leading light in your department that innovates new ideas and visions. Thought Leaders are often not in direct line of the management chain, but instead complement management and lead through example to execute vision and goals.
Not All Thought Leaders are the Same
The saying “One size does NOT fit all” can also refer to Thought Leadership because not all Thought Leaders are the same. Some Thought Leaders are about cutting-edge trends while others are there to inspire others. However, most Thought Leaders are experts in a field or industry and sometimes have a stance on a particular topic. They look beyond the business agenda and see the overall picture because every industry is constantly evolving. Being able to have insight in the trends and applying them to achieve and deliver results is part of the equation. You must be able to lead others and want to develop them as people not just players on a team.
When someone asks me how they can become a Thought Leader, I tell them this isn’t about you, it’s about others. When you help others by sharing your knowledge and experiences, all that other stuff will naturally come. Thought leadership status isn’t obtained through a single article or social media post on Twitter or LinkedIn. It’s something that you build your experiences and create credibility among your followers or your team at work. Experience takes time. Experience also means not only learning but listening to others. Everyone has different ideas and opinions, and being humble to listen and understand others is a critical part of the learning process. Thought Leaders don’t have all the answers and they are constantly learning themselves.
Credibility does not always mean obtaining all the latest industry certificates. While it can help, it’s not everything because having real life experiences is just as important. Someone that has all certifications in the industry but doesn’t have any applied real-world experiences will probably not get the same credibility as someone with 15+ years’ experience and fewer certifications.
Being the “Go To” person means defining trends or topics and showing your followers how they can take that knowledge to go farther with it. Once you are there it doesn’t stop either because you will need to continue to be involved and learning, otherwise your followers will eventually stop following you for guidance and that “vision.”
It’s About Others
I still get shocked sometimes when people refer to me as a Thought Leader. The reason why is because I didn’t set out to become a thought leader. What I wanted to do and still want to do is make a difference in the world and company I work for and to my coworkers and peers. I wanted to help others be successful by sharing any knowledge or skills that I may have. My hope was that by sharing my experiences others can be empowered to better themselves. Early on in my IT career, a manager gave me the best advice: sharing your knowledge will make you more valuable and it will motivate you to learn more. I have since kept that advice and use it daily.