In the past year, I took a deep dive into thought leadership. I read all of the books. I interviewed the experts.
What I’ve found is that many people don’t like it, especially those I’ve interacted with on social platforms. They have found it to be fake, just another buzzword with no real value.
There are a lot of self-proclaimed thought leaders out there who are rip-offs and frauds, no doubt about it. However, as I researched this topic I grew to believe that thought leadership can be effective, as long as it’s authentic. This led me to develop, what I think are the three qualities necessary for you to be an authentic thought leader.
Expert, contributor, and authority.
All three are required for authentic thought leadership and if even one is missing, you are at risk of being fake.
Quality #1 of Authentic Thought Leaders: Expert
Expertise is perhaps the most important, and most obvious quality. You need to know what you are talking about, to begin with.
However, not only do you need to be an expert in one area, but you also need some level of expertise in the related categories. If you are an expert in email marketing, you definitely need to know a lot about email marketing but you should also have some level of understanding in related fields like copywriting or web design.
This will allow you to interact fluently with those who are trying to learn more about your area of expertise.
Quality #2 of Authentic Thought Leaders: Contributor
Anyone can regurgitate someone else’s ideas but authentic thought leaders will bring something new to the table.
They will push the boundaries of what is done and offer unique, useful ideas.
I highlight the word useful. I’ve found that some people will bring “new” ideas but they aren’t helpful, or they are a rebranded version of someone else’s good idea.
Authentic thought leaders are focused on helping people.
Quality #3 of Authentic Thought Leaders: Authority
So many educate people approach me wanting to be on the podcast. They have PhD’s and original work.
I don’t know them.
They have expertise and unique, useful ideas to contribute but they don’t have any authority with me.
When it comes to authority it’s not just about your credentials, it’s about the relationship you build with your audience. This happens by positioning yourself as a student and allowing people to be a part of your journey into becoming a thought leader. I have another post about this philosophy you can check out here.
Why You Need All Three Qualities of Authentic Thought Leadership
As you work towards becoming an authentic thought leader, remember that you need all three qualities to be successful. Even missing one will give you a label that you probably don’t want.
- Lacking authority makes you unknown and untrusted. You may have all the expertise and unique, helpful ideas, but if you haven’t welcomed people in to watch you grow, you haven’t established any authority with them. You may have the right information but people won’t trust you to give it to them. This is probably the easiest one to fix. It will just take time to build the trust that leads to authority.
- Lacking contributions makes you a rip off at worst, and a public intellectual at best. If you aren’t adding anytihng new to the space you are probably just ripping off other people’s ideas. And if not that, you are commentating on those ideas. This does not make you a thought leader.
- Lacking expertise makes you a charlottan and a fraud. Basically, you don’t know what you are talking about. You can propose new ideas and you have a following but it’s not based on any real knowledge. They look to trip up people who are still learning the process, and selling them worthless tools.
As you can see, you can’t be lacking in any one area, otherwise you are no longer an authentic thought leader and you run the risk of being a rip off and a fraud. I don’t think I have to remind you that that isn’t the label you want.