The Oxford English Dictionary describes a thought leader as “one whose views on a subject are taken to be authoritative and influential.” So, for example, Sigmund Freud can be considered a thought leader in the field of Psychology. Or Malcolm Gladwell can be considered a thought leader in the field of contemporary critical theory.
Thought leadership can be seen in every field. These are people that everyone has heard of at some point or the other. Even if you don’t watch movies too often, you might have heard of Martin Scorsese. Even if you don’t believe in mind-body healing, chances are you’ve heard of Deepak Chopra. And even if you aren’t in a relationship, you’ve probably heard of the book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray.
Whether you’re a company or an individual, you can also become a thought leader in the field of your choice. Here are a few tips to help you do so:
Share Your Thoughts
You have to find a way to share your thoughts with others before you can become a thought leader. This can be done in a variety of ways. Nowadays, the simplest and cheapest way of disseminating your thoughts is via a blog and social media. But keep in mind that there are also other ways of putting out your thoughts about a certain topic. It helps to be featured in magazines, newspapers and other types of media too. So you should keep your eyes open for any opportunity that comes your way.
Consider Shape magazine which not only puts out a magazine every month but also publishes books like the Ultimate Body Book and brings out DVDs like the Ultimate Bikini Body Workout. The idea is to reach out to people in as many ways as you can.
Clarify Your Thoughts
Becoming a thought leader is not just about sharing your thoughts with people. It’s also about clarifying them. You can’t always keep writing or talking about the same thing in the same way. You need to approach the topic from different angles, write about other topics that are closely related to the one you’re interested in or bring in new scientific research that addresses the same issues. Additionally, you can also write the same thing but address it to different audiences.
One great example of how the same topic can be covered in a variety of ways for different audiences can be seen in the book Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield. Given how successful the initial book was, a sequel became inevitable. The interesting thing was that the sequels weren’t just written for a general audience but for various demographics, such as Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, Chicken Soup for the African American Soul, Chicken Soup for the Cancer Survivor’s Soul etc.
As mentioned above, it helps to address topics related to the topic you’re writing about. This leads into a horizontal expansion. For example, let’s assume that you’re writing about web design. In addition, you might write about content creation, SEO, social media marketing and marketing in general. But in addition to this kind of horizontal expansion of your topic, you can also dig deeper and explore the topic more fully by specializing. This type of vertical expansion is equally, if not more important, to thought leadership.
If you look at the work of Malcolm Gladwell, for example, you’ll find both types of expansion. Gladwell is a writer for the New Yorker; he’s written about diverse topics, such as what is considered fair and unfair in the world of athletics, how criminal families are generally upwardly mobile, the unreliability of college rankings etc. However, in addition to these extremely diverse topics that he happens to find interesting, he has also gone in-depth into certain subjects. He did this by writing full-length books: The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers and David and Goliath.
So in Malcolm Gladwell, you see both, horizontal and vertical expansion. He casts a broad net which covers a wide variety of topics and treats each of them with his own peculiar flair. At the same time, he also goes in-depth into some chosen topics and explores them as fully as possible. It is eventually this type of specialization that any thought leader becomes best known for because it’s only by delving deeper and uncovering the layers obscuring a topic that one makes new discoveries and develops a unique voice.
There are many techniques that you can use to become a thought leader, from trying to reach a wide audience to specializing in one aspect of your chosen topic. However, becoming a thought leader is like making art. You can learn the technical aspect of the art and become very proficient. However, it’s up to you to actually add heart to your art. You have to figure out what you want to say and why. You have to use the things you feel strongly about if you really want to make an impact. In other words, you have to be yourself.
The same goes for thought leadership. You can’t imitate anyone else’s style of writing or just write about something because it’s popular. You have to write about something that’s meaningful to you in a way that resonates with you. You have to find a “voice.” And if you feel that this is too abstract, just write about things that you feel strongly about. Everyone knows what these things are. Your style of writing or your voice will develop as you go.