What Does It Take To Be A 'Thought Leader' In Your Industry?

  • By Andy Fox

What do you find common amongst names such as; Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, Simon Sinek, Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk?

You must have already guessed the word I ‘m looking for here… Yes, they’re all ‘thought leaders’ in their respective fields or industries. It’s through their unique, innovative and disruptive ideas, books or body of works; that each of these individuals has been able to inspire the masses and establish themselves as an authority in their niches. 

Wikipedia defines the term ‘Thought Leader’ as: An individual or firm that is recognised as an authority in a specialised field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded. 

However, the term gets thrown around a lot these days, with many creating titles such as; an ‘SEO Expert’ or an ‘Instagram Expert’. 

Thought leadership or a ‘thought leader’ is not a self-proclaimed ‘title’ for some kind of expertise one has developed in a specialised fieldIt is but a ‘recognition’ and a ‘credibility’ one (an individual, brand, or an organisation) gets from their peers, audience and industry they represent; through their incredible body of work, their innovative and disruptive insights on the industry trends; and their relentless passion and focus to master their craft– which inevitably inspires and moves masses to embrace and follow their ideology. 

Be it the media mogul like Ted Turner, who revolutionised broadcast media via his idea of running an ‘all-day’ News Channel; or Steve Jobs who gave us the Apple and drastically altered the way we communicated and consumed information; or marketing mavericks like Seth Godin, who pioneered and planted the seed of ‘permission marketing’; or take ‘thought engineers’ like Simon Sinek, who has decoded the ‘blueprint’ for business and personal success through his astounding yet simple insights into the ‘Why’. A true thought leader and ‘thought leadership’ comes with the power to solve many problems existing in today’s society, and paves the way for all to reach for their dreams. 

Having said that, it’s clear that no one starts out with the drive to become a ‘thought leader’ in their chosen field or niche; it’s only through sheer hard work, creativity and their genuine passion to ‘own’ and pursue their ‘idea’; which makes them ‘thought leaders’ in the eyes of others. Nevertheless,
we give you a certain pattern, or process that rings true in the making
of most of the ‘thought leaders’; to help you nurture your own ideas on ‘thought leadership’

1.  Own & Master Your ‘idea’ – Personal Branding

Thought leaders are clearly the ones who stand out and above the rest with a key idea of their own. This is a crucial pre-requisite to any thought-leadership – you pick an idea, a topic, an approach or a philosophy; whatever it is, it needs to be genuinely ‘yours’ and not borrowed. 

It could be a different ‘take’ on an existing perspective; but you need to claim it and master it enough to make people turn to you for insights and answers, when the topic is in question. 

Once this foundation is laid, it will be easy for you to carve out your ‘personal brand’ based on the idea/topic which is so ‘authentically’ yours and is in tune with your personality. You may need to work on a couple of aspects that is unique to your ‘key’ idea; rather than jumping on to various related topics. For instance if you have an absolute command and insight over SEO, you may want to refrain from writing content on other aspects of digital marketing – in time, as you grow with your core brand ideas, and build enough ‘critical mass’ of followers; other related topics will also fall under your radar of ‘expertise’. 

2.  Spread Your Wings – Connect With Mentors & Key People of Influence

The next logical step is for your ‘idea’ to take flight. And for that you need a platform or a medium to amplify your brand and its messages out to the world. 

The most common and effective tool for many thought leaders is to build a website or a blogsite; through which they can spread their unique ideas and business concepts. If we look at digital marketing gurus such as Neil Patel, Brian Clark or Joe Pulizzi; they’ve all either built their ‘thought leader’ status by way of personal blogs or blogs under their company names. 

In recent times, many influencers have taken on Social Media as their key tool to bring out their thoughts; such as Gary Vaynerchuk, a rising Social Media guru, whose #AskGaryVee show on YouTube has won the hearts of millions of his fans.  Another influencer, Elon Musk has taken on Twitter as his chosen platform, where he shares his ideas and communicates with over 13.6 million followers

Once you’ve established your name in the industry; or once people recognise and connect you to your idea – you’ve established a baseline reputation for being an ‘authority’ in your topic. But you also need support and a constant ‘nod’ from other influencers and mentors in the industry to collect their ‘testimony’ and ‘social proof’ to carve your ideas, messages or image as an influential figure. This connection and support can be garnered by reaching out to existing titans in the industry via social media, presentation gigs, co-authorship, interviews or simply through guest-blogging and net-working. 

3.  Publish Your Work !

Once you’ve put out hundreds of blog posts; given a number of key interviews,  and carved your image as  a ‘sought-after’ speaker at conferences, then you most certainly have established yourself and your brand as a ‘thought leader’ in your niche. 

But to truly clinch the ‘hall of fame’ of thought leadership, (as most celebrated thought leaders do), and to have the ‘icing’ on the cake, you should find time to polish your ideas, distill your content, insights and philosophy into a book – a body of work that essentially stamps your authority on the subject, while it also creates a new revenue stream and leverages your reputation in the market. 

Publishing a book essentially means it contains ‘premium knowledge’ on the subject and that ‘authority’ automatically ties to the weight of your personal brand or the brand of your company. 

If you’d like to dig a bit more on ‘thought leadership’, here’s a nifty infographic from Denise Brosseau on steps to becoming a Thought Leader: 



Having a personal brand with a huge following or establishing yourself as a ‘Thought Leader’ is not a quick fix; but a process that takes years of hard work and an unwavering commitment and focus on your ideas and craft!  Could you be the next 'Thought Leader'?  Go on, unleash the leader within.......

If you'd like further assistance or would like to discuss anything covered today, we'd love to hear from you.

Call Andy Fox (me) on (03) 5249 5570 or email andy@element7digital.com.au

Our Website is www.element7digital.com.au


Andy Fox - Author

I have a firm belief there is only one great challenge in life… And that is… To be the best version of you possible. I have lived my whole life to this tune. I love that I am not perfect and I love that every day I get up and make at least one change in my life that makes it better, one change that takes me closer to my life’s goals.

More about me, visit: andyfox.com.au