We all want thought leadership in our respective markets. But in the rush of everyone clamoring to reach that lofty pinnacle, the pursuit can get noisy, tiring, and sometimes very frustrating.
However, in times of frustration, it helps to know with clarity — or in some cases, rediscover (if we’ve wandered off the path) — what thought leadership means at its core. Forbes defines it in two parts:
 A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise… A thought leader is an individual or firm that significantly profits from being recognized as such.
The value of thought leadership reminds us why we’re in the race to begin with, and that can give us a second wind. But there’s more: the good news is that there are tangible, things-you-can-do-now steps that will bring you closer to that prized title of thought leader.
- Know Thyself: Where Is Your Innovation?
Leadership cannot be faked. For this reason, step one to thought leadership will always be something very easy to define: identify the most innovative characteristics of your product and services.
Be warned: your strongest points — whether you’re looking for the best innovation in your products or in your people — can come when you least expect it from whom you least expect it. And identifying these strong points in unusual places might require a change in your company’s culture. As FastCompany writes:
…ideas within the enterprise can grow organically from anywhere—engineering, management, HR, even finance. While innovation doesn’t just happen, often an element of serendipity can drive an idea forward. In order for organically conceived ideas to take hold, the company’s culture must be conducive, treating every contributor as a partner in the process.
Here’s a perfect example: Adobe achieved this task by distributing innovation kits to every employee in their company. Each kit had instructions on how a person could develop an idea he or she is passionate about and refine the idea through feedback and beta-testing until it’s ready for the limelight. This brilliant move made every company employee a potential innovator who could change the course of the company. (And, by the way, if that’s not a fantastic employee motivator and morale booster, I don’t know what it is.)
- Get Your Strong Points Out There with Creative Social Media Hacks
Once you identify your strongest points — the ones that have the greatest potential for transforming you into a thought leader in your industry — it’s time to unveil your treasures to the world.
And one of the best ways to do this is through innovative social media hacks.
For example, Josh Light on Quora.com put together this simple but oh-so-beautiful technique that creatively repurposes Twitter’s advanced search feature. (And I will quote his bullet points exactly as he laid them out so you can see his thought process.) In six simple steps:
1) Create landing page
2) Create some piece of content that is related to landing page (think advertising scent)
3) Insert call to action in content somewhere that directs reader to landing page
4) Tweet the content. Include picture…use Flickr to find a picture that is cool, and is available in the public domain
5) Search for keywords in Twitter’s advanced search that are related to the content you’ve just created
6) Follow people that show up from the advanced search. First thing new followers will see is an email notifying them of your follow. They’ll see your picture and bio. Use bio as copy to promote them to visit Twitter page. First thing they see on page is your tweet…because they just talked about this same subject the probability of a retweet is higher. 15% or more will follow you back. Some will go to your landing page.
This example is a very simple trick, but that’s why it’s such a beauty. Some of the best hacks are the ones that make you slap your forehead and say, “This is so simple, yet effective. Why didn’t I think of that?”
These are just a few of the things you can do with social media. There are tons of great social media best practices. This recent blog post by Chad Sloan gives you some great ones.
- Listen Well
The most elite salesperson knows that it’s not strong-arm pitches that separate the top 3% in sales from the rest.
It’s listening skills.
It’s having that uncanny ability to ask the right questions and listen patiently — almost obsessively — until you know exactly, and I mean exactly, what the potential customer wants.
The same principle applies to thought leadership. No one will follow you if they don’t feel you understand their wants and needs. Listen well. Search through forums and find the questions related to your product or service that people are dying to know. When you meet a potential client, don’t monopolize the conversation or apply pressure. Just listen. Ask open questions. Really dig deep to understand where the person is coming from.
- Don’t Stop the Generosity: Engage and Become a Mentor
After you’ve gained followers, the next step is to keep the dialogue going. When they ask questions, go above and beyond as you engage them, whether online or in person. Don’t be afraid to overload them with information or invest in a long, time-consuming conversation or email thread. The more you dialogue with your followers and invest in their success, the more they will see you as a mentor, a role that is also known by another name.