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How to Become a Thought Leader | Full Thought Leadership Guide

Learn how to become a thought leader with our step-by-step guide. From strategy to top tips we'll help you craft your thought leadership skills.
Lisa Harroy
Creator Partnerships Lead
Published:
December 30, 2023
Last Updated:
February 8, 2024
10
min
Reviewed by
Ortal Hadad

You have something to say. You know your stuff. And you want people to hear it. So, becoming a thought leader is an understandable ambition – but how to get there? 

The social media era we’re living in makes it both easier and more difficult to share your thinking and become a prominent voice in your field. While it’s far simpler to get your voice out there, you need to know how to harness your channels to maximize your exposure in the right places. Plus, since anyone and everyone can use social media to amplify their own voice, you’re competing in a saturated market. But don’t let that stop you. 

In this how-to guide, we share some thought leaders to get inspired by, the best tools and channels to use for content marketing your thinking, and some tips and tricks for getting started. 

What is thought leadership?

Let’s start by digging into what or who exactly is a “thought leader”. Thought leaders are people who establish themselves as expert, inspiring, and prominent voices in a particular niche, field, or area. These figures typically build out a reputation that is based on their opinions, views, as well as their personalities. 

Thought leaders can be tied to a specific business or industry, or be more broad and speak up about social issues and pop culture, for example. It’s also possible for either individuals or businesses and organizations themselves to become thought leaders. 

Examples of thought leaders

Before we take a look at what it takes to become a thought leader, let’s get some inspiration from some existing ones: 

Jay Shetty 

Jay Shetty thought leader

Jay Shetty is a British internet personality, storyteller, podcast host, purpose coach, and former monk. He has 15 million followers on Instagram and 4.72 on YouTube (at the time of writing). He’s written a book – which is a New York Times bestseller – has a podcast, and, as is clear by his huge following, is very active on social media too. 

Using his life experience – namely living as a monk – Shetty has made a name for himself as an influential thought leader. He shares his life advice via his viral podcast On Purpose and through his books Think Like a Monk and Find It, Keep It, and Let It Go.  

Gary Vaynerchuk 

Thought leader, Gary Vaynerchuk

Gary Vaynerchuk – known on the internet as Gary Vee – is an American thought leader, entrepreneur, and author. Vaynerchuk has had a long career in the public eye – he’s been publishing vlogs since the early 2000s. Now he’s got a huge social media following: 4.21 million subscribers on YouTube and 10m on Instagram. As Entrepreuner.com put it: “Vaynerchuck breaks tradition from the typical thought leader, who is over managed and under-inspired….[he] slides into a room, winking at his fans and pulls them into his magnetic energy.” He shares his takes on how to build a successful business, taking your career to the next level, and more. 

Brené Brown 

Dare to Lead with Brene Brown thought leader podcast

Brené Brown is an American thought leader, professor, author, and podcast host. She’s famous for her thought leadership, focusing on themes of shame, vulnerability, and leadership itself. A prolific writer, she’s written six New York Times books to date and also has two podcasts. She’s got 5 million followers on Instagram, and her TED talks have had over 60 million views.

Why should you become a thought leader in your field?

There are so many reasons that becoming a thought leader is a good idea. Beyond the obvious – spreading your thoughts and opinions to a like-minded audience – it’s a really important way of raising your profile, gaining you credibility and a loyal following, and more. Let’s delve deeper into the different benefits of becoming a thought leader: 

Benefits of becoming a thought leader

Here are just some of the ways that becoming a thought leader can benefit you: 

Establish your voice in your specific niche 

By committing to becoming a thought leader, you’re establishing yourself as a key figure and source of knowledge in your field. You’re amplifying yourself as a reliable and active voice who engages with new developments and presents new takes on a specific theme, topic, or industry. This is an important way to establish yourself as an expert. 

Build out a loyal audience 

Thought leaders wouldn’t be leaders without their audience or following. Your audience are those that subscribe to your ideas or general approach, engage with you on social media, and help you to raise your profile in general. 

Raise your profile (and your business or organization’s) 

Becoming a thought leader is an effective way to raise your own and your business or organization’s profile and embed your reputation as an expert in your field. By showing active engagement and sharing criticism, commentary, and hot takes, you demonstrate to your audience that you’re a voice worth listening to. This can spill over into building trust in your products or services too. 

Make change 

Thought leaders have the social currency and the influence to effect real change in their fields. This can be a really compelling reason to become a thought leader in the first place. In a business or industry context, for example, thought leaders are able to make great contributions to how their industry moves forward. 

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How to become a successful thought leader: 6 Steps

Step 1: Strategize – choose a niche & target audience 

Unfortunately, you don’t become a thought leader overnight. It takes time, commitment, and a bullet-proof strategy. The first thing you need to know is what kind of audience you’re trying to connect with and from what angle. Once you’ve worked out what your niche is going to be, you should spend time coming up with a growth strategy. 

This strategy should include a timeline, a marketing and your thought leadership content strategy, and other considerations such as your tone of voice, target audience, and the way you want to establish yourself in your field. With a strategy in hand, you’ll be better placed to grow your audience and establish yourself as a leading voice.

Step 2: Take time to craft your insights

Rather than sharing quick takes, your audience will appreciate expert insights – even if you take your time to articulate them. You’ll have far more success building out your long-term and established presence as a thought leader with well-thought-out and empowering ideas rather than rough takes. Give yourself the time and space to develop your overarching ideas and opinions on key topics, and the rest will follow. 

Step 3: Create a workflow that generates high-quality content 

It’s important to emphasize quality over quantity from the beginning. This applies not only to the ideas you’re spreading but also to the content you’re producing. From written content to video content, you need to ensure everything is up to a quality that reflects well on you. 

The key to getting this right from the start is your workflow and tools. If you start out with the right equipment and software, you’re more likely to naturally create workflows that automatically and consistently create high-quality video content that you’re proud of. 

Step 4: Implement a consistent publication schedule (and stick to it) 

A big part of growing your audience at an effective pace is consistency. You need to establish yourself as a present and active voice in your field and engage with your community regularly on different platforms. And it’s no secret that publishing diverse types of content regularly is the key to organic growth. Creating an output timeline, schedule and key outcomes will help you stay on track and keep yourself accountable. This should fall under your overall growth and marketing strategy – and should not be overlooked. 

Step 5: Engage with your following 

You shouldn’t just be a one-sided voice. You need to engage with your community, whether that’s through your Instagram comments or audience members with questions at live events. These kinds of interactions are what elevate you from someone with interesting ideas, to a leader. 

Step 6: Stay up to date with new developments

Particularly important for industry thought leaders, you need to stay on top of new developments and changes in your field. This is because you’re trying to establish yourself as a current and relevant voice and stay ahead of your competition. 

4 Tips to stand out as a thought leader

If you’re set on becoming a thought leader, but don’t know how to stand out from the crowd, here are a few tips to keep in mind: 

  • Harness your social media platforms. These days, getting your voice out there means you need to be an active and savvy social media user. This is the best way to reach a wide audience and establish a platform for yourself. You need to educate yourself about each platform’s best practices and the kinds of content you need to be creating. 
  • Don’t forget your niche. Maintaining your focus and sticking to your chosen niche is really important as a thought leader. Though it can be tempting to offer your take on related or adjacent issues, you’re probably better off limiting your thought leadership to a defined set of issues or thematic area. This maintains your credibility and eliminates the risk of diluting your reputation within your niche.  
  • Always think about your audience. A leader isn’t anyone with their followers. That’s why you should always come back to your audience – what kind of content and insights are they after? How can you better appeal to them? Speaking directly to and engaging and working with your community are essential elements of being a leader in general, so it’s no different for thought leaders. 
  • Don’t be afraid to go against the grain and speak out. It can be easier to keep your head down and follow the crowd, but you may find that finding your own voice and hot takes on certain contentious issues boosts your profile as a thought leader. It may even gain you added credibility as someone who is not afraid to go against the grain. 
  • Be yourself. As a thought leader, you’re putting yourself out there not only as a voice but as a person. Leaning into your own personality and conveying this in your appearances and content is an important way of connecting with your audience. 

FAQs on Thought Leadership

How do you demonstrate thought leadership?

Even if your opinions, theories, and ideas are innovative, you need to ensure everyone knows they are. To demonstrate thought leadership, you need to proactively engage with developments in your field. You should also respond to and engage with other thought leaders (whether you agree with them or not). This combined with consistent output and investment in your public persona and community are the core pillars of being a strong thought leader worth following. 

What are the pillars of thought leadership?

Depending on who you talk to, you’ll probably come across different answers. Here are a few core tenets to keep in mind though – 

  • Consistency - regular and consistent output across all channels, sharing your thoughts and engaging with your audience. 
  • Credibility - what you’re saying and sharing has to be credible and reliable. You don’t want to undermine yourself by citing inaccurate facts or putting forward ideas that are not your own, for example. 
  • Proactive engagement - you should be seen as an active participant and commentator in your field. This means you should respond and share your take on recent developments and current affairs. 
  • Building a following. Every leader needs an audience and following. Cultivating a community means leveraging various social media channels as well as public appearances to make sure you’re giving your voice a platform.  

What are the three types of thought leaders?

Thought leaders don’t necessarily have to fit into fixed categories. According to this LinkedIn article though, you can vaguely define three types: industry, organizational, and product. Industry thought leaders are prominent voices in a defined field or sector. Organizational thought leaders are those that speak out on behalf of their business or entity. Product thought leaders are those that are experts on a particular product or service. 

What is the difference between a leader and a thought leader?

In many ways, there are a lot of overlaps between leaders and thought leaders. Both gain followings because of their ideas, opinions, and takes on certain issues. Thought leaders are leading figures in their specific area of expertise. Leader is a generic term for anyone who is a principal figure who leads and controls a business, organization, or movement. 

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