by Tony Vidler
A big phrase of the moment for anyone in professional services is “Thought Leadership”. Everywhere you turn someone is writing or saying “be a thought leader”…and nearly every audience asks “what is a Thought Leader, and how do you get there?”
To put it in its most simple terms, it is the step beyond being an expert.
As we evolve in our careers we move from being a novice to a competent technician, and then move to becoming an adept professional. Some professionals move beyond that and become experts in their field, rather than general practitioners.
Some experts, but not all, become Thought Leaders. They become the experts that other experts pay attention to. They become the experts with an audience. That last part is where the value is in becoming a thought leader: having an audience that seek your opinions, analysis and insights.
In todays world of freely available information at the end of a smartphone, the market decides who to listen to. That is a fundamental shift from just 20 years ago where the market was told who to listen to. Many of todays most senior professionals (in all sorts of disciplines) have not adapted to that shift in market positioning, and many of todays younger professionals have adapted but are still on their professional development journey to full expertise. Being an expert is naturally a precursor to becoming a thought leader. The chart below summarises it well, as someone with a large audience but little content or knowledge of real value is nothing more than an evangelist. They are not thought leaders.
To make the transition from being an expert in your field to being someone that the public and other experts seeks out and listens to requires that you become a producer of insightful content. You have to reproduce your thinking and disseminate it in a form the market can consumer. That is “content”.
While an expert you can build audience with aggregated or curated content where you may or may not include comment and opinion. Building the audience is a large part of moving to a position of thought leadership, and that is why blogging and the use of social media as content outlets is so significant for professionals today. It establishes credentials and credibility, and builds an audience.
With an audience that you can deliver your original thinking, or content, to you are then establishing a thought leadership position. When combined with some good basic marketing tactics it is not difficult (though can be time consuming) to build the audience exponentially.
Any intelligent professional who has mastery of their discipline can become a Thought Leader. But there was a catch there: you have to have mastery of your discipline, or be a genuine expert, first. Beginning to build an audience with some basic marketing of curated content leads to an audience that will consume your original thinking – and share it further afield. THEN the market is prospecting for you, rather than you prospecting for them.
Can you become a thought leader in your field?
Absolutely. You just have to put in the effort and time required to master your field of expertise and then build an audience.