Let’s discuss thought leadership: what it is, why you want it, and how to position yourself to be a thought leader in your field. The term “thought leader” is thrown around quite liberally. That said, what is a thought leader, really?
A thought leader is an individual or organization whose prospects, clients, partners, and even competitors recognize them as a leading go-to authority in their field. The reason you want to become a thought leader is because, when you’re a go-to authority in your area of expertise, your business will propel forward.
Two things you must achieve before becoming a thought leader are credibility and expertise. You want to package and promote the one-of-a-kind skills and experiences that make you the preferred provider of your products or services.
If you’ve established yourself as an expert in your field, then you already have some level of credibility and you can build on that. Expertise is vital because when you’re truly skilled at what you do, people are willing to listen to what you have to say even when it contradicts the popular philosophies surrounding your field.
If you can say, “After 10 years of trying to build a business, I realized that ‘this’ is what I was doing wrong and ‘this’ is what I needed to do differently,” your insights will carry much more weight with them than if you started that same sentence with, “After one year of trying to build a business…”
If you have yet to build credibility in your field by demonstrating your expertise and delivering results, then no one will be willing to follow you in a new direction. Whether you’ve been working professionally for a decade or your skill is something you’ve established by doing it as a hobby for years, you will still need that experience and credibility to move ahead.
Two more skills that you need to become a thought leader are intellectual influence and innovative thinking. Being a thought leader means influencing a narrative or a philosophy in a specific field. Your skill could be anything from potty training a toddler to implementing successful sales strategies for an organization. Regardless, your goal is to have a significant impact on your industry, and utilizing innovative thinking is how one gains that intellectual influence and raises oneself to a thought leadership position.
Innovative thinking comes from having a unique perspective. A unique perspective is crucial in order to distinguish yourself from others in your field, and it’s important for your message to be clear and compelling so your target market understands what they’ll gain if they follow you. You don’t want to present an abstract concept because your audience won’t take the time to evaluate how your message applies to them. People want to know what you stand for and what you can offer — not simply what you’re against. Therefore, you need to state plainly, “This is what is lacking in our industry and here is my clear and concise plan for how to resolve it.”
When everyone’s business endeavors are based on the same philosophies, they compete on an even playing field. This means it will require an exorbitant amount of time and resources for one business to get ahead. Instead of getting lost in that game, focus your efforts on finding the gap in the current philosophy that no one is addressing and create polarity around it.
How do you discover that gap? It could be something such as, “The going rate for the type of services my business provides is priced so low that it takes an unreasonably long time to deliver results. Therefore, many clients lose faith in those services before the desired results can be achieved. I am going to charge more in exchange for faster results.”
Whatever the gap may be, create conversation around it by presenting a position that is somewhat contrary to the current philosophy. Once you’ve done that, you can continue building on your narrative to bring your message forward. This will allow you to appeal to new audiences and establish yourself as a thought leader in your field, thus enabling your business to thrive.
One of the most valued characteristics that clients and consumers seek when choosing a go-to brand or authority is authenticity. Almost anyone can present a counter position to a philosophy, but if you don’t genuinely believe in your message and can’t demonstrate how it will benefit those who choose to follow you, then you need to set it aside.
Establishing your perspective as one-of-a-kind is not about creating polarity for polarity’s sake; it’s about offering a unique perspective that you authentically believe in. Ask not what standpoint can create the biggest waves — rather, ask what you can do to correct what’s wrong with the current philosophy of the market. Then, establish a plan to correct it.
Imagine you’re a business consultant working with entrepreneurs to help them structure their organizations. Now, let’s say your competition is the MBA offered by most colleges and courses offered by entrepreneurs. Where is the gap in this scenario? What can you offer that is unique and why is it better than the existing two options?
For example, “I’m offering a professional program that provides significantly more knowledge than a single course but is not as expensive or time consuming as earning a master’s degree.” Your challenge is to determine how you can create a new conversation that showcases your innovative position on how to fill an existing void.
Build your foundation for thought leadership by taking on the market you serve. Inspire not only your prospective clients or customers, but also your peers. Stay tuned for a second blog about thought leadership, in which I’ll discuss how to grow your influence to become a thought leader in your field.