3 Qualities of a Thought Leader

Thought leader journaling in a notebook

Thought leaders are more than successful businesspeople. They are professionals who are seen as authorities in their fields and as go-to resources when someone is seeking expertise. Being perceived as an authority on a topic is beneficial. Status as a thought leader brings increased popularity as individuals seek out advice and authoritative figures. Businesses can profit from being associated with a thought leader and may even leverage a thought leader's knowledge into courses, podcasts or speaking tours. These events amplify the message further, making the thought leader even more sought after.

Becoming a thought leader requires having a message people want to hear and can relate to. However, the message must also be delivered at the right moment with the right medium. It requires loving your topic, putting your own spin on it and believing that you are telling the best story possible. It also requires experience with social media, video, networking and public speaking.

Thought leaders are not born. They are made through experience and passion for their business. Of course, they need industry expertise, but it goes beyond that. They must also have other qualities.

1. Approachable

Thought leaders share their thoughts. Being a thought leader means being willing to discuss the same topic time and time again – for years. It means finding new ways to share the message. You will have to be comfortable answering the same questions over and over as new people hear your message for the first time. You cannot afford to be condescending. On the contrary, you must want people to ask questions and use your methods. As a thought leader, you depend on word-of-mouth recommendations. Taking pleasure in giving advice will serve you well.

When you are at events, there is no need to speak to the most important people in the room. In fact, it may be best to engage the people you recognize as just starting off. Tell them your thoughts and be open to feedback. Hearing from someone new can help you understand how your message is being received. In accepting feedback, you not only learn something useful but also show that you are approachable and open to new ideas.

2. Vulnerable

Leaders share the stories of their journeys so that others can see that success is possible. Transparency about personal issues, failures and roadblocks reminds the audience that thought leaders are human. You want the people in your audience to see your journey as one they can make too. You want them to see your success and know they could achieve the same results. Otherwise, your message is not meaningful to them and you become just another voice.

Honesty and vulnerability also help you make connections with people who may not be in your target audience but can contribute to your goals in some other way. Investors may connect with you over your background and want to take part in your future work. Organizations may hear you speak about your failures and ask you to give a speech to their employees about how you turned things around. Your true story becomes part of your thought leadership.

3. Persistent

Thought leadership is not created by firing off a blog and hoping it gains traction. It takes years to become an expert in your field, to make the connections and to craft your platform and message so that it resonates with people. Thought leaders have personal drive and the willingness to devote time to their goals.

Thought leaders show persistence by publishing new material and social media content regularly. They read everything they can about their industry and publicly comment on new materials posted by others. They make themselves available to the media and often appear in public at networking events and industry nights. They offer education and mentorship to spread their message and support others.

Being a thought leader takes work. Once you are recognized as a thought leader, retaining the title requires keeping up with the demands. If thought leadership is something you feel destined for, check out the Master of Science in Leadership at Grand Canyon University. To learn more about how Grand Canyon University’s Colangelo College of Business provides outstanding business students with the tools to become future thought leaders, click the Request More Information button on this page.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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