Leadership demands a variety of qualities and traits: guidance, diplomacy, creativity, and grace under pressure, to name a few. However, an often overlooked and misunderstood skill is the common link between all components of leadership: thought. Thinking might appear to be an obvious activity in one’s daily and professional life, but Thought Leadership is a standalone concept, one that lends itself to many definitions and therefore, confusion. Being a Thought Leader requires another level of specialty, and is much more complex than being merely a “deep thinker.” In this article, we’ll examine the nuts and bolts of effective Thought Leadership, and how using it effectively can be a powerful tool for your business and your personal value.
What Exactly is a Thought Leader?
A true Thought Leader is an expert in a given field or subject, namely, the go-to for ideas about trends, logistics, and the complete knowledge about a product, idea, or a way of achieving a certain goal. A Thought Leader can be someone who is widely published in journals and trade publications, or is officially certified as an expert in a field. Or, it can be someone with enough knowledge to answer any questions and be looked to as the first resource for a given topic or trend. However, a Thought Leader doesn’t stop at knowledge, they push innovation and new ways of thinking about their specialty.
Some sources liken Thought Leaders to influencers; however, it’s best when it’s less clinging to passing trends and more knowing the ebbs and flows of your particular business. This may mean being able to identify passing but profitable trends, but also knowing even the smallest details about your given specialization. While this may sound like a trendy phrase, Thought Leadership is complete, thorough expertise and the ability to conceptualize existing concepts in novel ways.
What Isn’t Thought Leadership?
While knowledge is crucial, a Thought Leader wouldn’t be someone with just a passing interest in, for example, automotive trends. An enthusiast would know about upcoming makes and models, but a Thought Leader would know which cars and trucks are primed to be the bestsellers, based on past research, trends, and time spent in an automotive career. If someone wanted to advertise a new car model, or wanted to know the best value, they would immediately go to the Thought Leader before anyone else. In addition to concrete knowledge, a Thought Leader can also anticipate intangibles and unknowns due to their deep immersion in the subject.
While we all have specialties and core knowledge, Thought Leadership takes this to a purely expert level, to the point of influencing choices and habits based on their knowledge. And Thought Leadership isn’t just about opinions, but rather, complete and continuing knowledge to the point of high regard.
How Do I Become a Thought Leader?
This all depends on your industry, but in the business world, there are ample ways to specialize in given fields. You can be a Thought Leader on a product, or a concept, or even leadership itself. However, it will not happen overnight. It takes time, commitment, and effort to become a Thought Leader. A few key steps to start are:
- Be adaptable to new information and developments; don’t assume your field or specialty won’t change as time goes on and new outlooks become available.
- Use current trends, online information, and notifications to your benefit. Research your Thought Leadership field at least monthly, if not weekly, to learn what developments and information may have come about recently. Even if you think you know everything about your topic, you likely don’t, and that’s a good thing. Even if no developments have happened, it’s always a good idea to continually refresh what you already know.
- Over time, be willing to be the source of new information. If you’re truly an expert, and can gauge shifts and new ideas, you’ll have potential learners and future Thought Leaders looking to you for the information, much like you studied the works of others.
Why should I be a Thought Leader?
Being a Thought Leader will put you in high demand, both internally and externally in your business. By setting yourself out as someone who knows the ins and outs of a focal point, your acumen will lead to further opportunities, as well as an enhanced reputation, even among your competitors. As a walking resource for valuable information and outlooks, you’ll be counted on to help forecast developments, changes, and opportunities in your field, and being engaged fully in a topic will naturally lead to growth and education in other areas. They may not be your Thought Leader specialities, but you’ll feel more responsive to new environments and changes. If your title gives you multiple responsibilities, there’s no reason you can’t be a Thought Leader in one area and not have it at least trickle to other areas. As long as all the responsibilities are being met, Thought Leadership can only be a positive.
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