One of my goals this past year has been to learn everything I can about thought leadership. As I’ve implemented what I’ve learned, I found that lots of people are facing the same problem:
Everyone wants to be a thought leader, but there is no clear path on how to get there.
The path is even more muddled by the process of trying to identify authentic thought leaders and get rid of the posers. So, not only do you want to become a thought leader, but also one that people can trust.
I recorded a full episode about this on B2B Growth that you can find here:
In order to do that, let me recap some traits of an authentic thought leader.
Characteristics of Authentic Thought Leadership
I recently talked in a podcast about what it means to be an authentic thought leader and the reality is you are probably listening to a few already. Thought leadership is everywhere: on social media, in podcasts, books, or even the people in your life whose thoughts impact how you live.
In that podcast episode I outlined three characteristics of an authentic thought leader:
- Unique helpful ideas
Without these traits, you are a faker, a poser, a charlatan. No one wants to be known like that.
So, what do you do if you are aspiring to be a thought leader?
Pushing your own ideas feels presumptuous, and maybe you haven’t yet hit those qualifications of authentic thought leadership yet.
You may be a great professional, but you don’t have scores of studies to back up your theories. You may have some unique ideas but not enough years of experience to be considered an authority. And even if you did have authority, how do you even measure it to know you have enough?
This is where I introduce my theory which I like to call “learning in the light.”
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Learn in the Light: My Theory on Becoming a Thought Leader
Here’s how it works:
Don’t position yourself as a thought leader. Don’t put it in your bio. Don’t talk about it at all.
The first rule of thought leadership: don’t call yourself a thought leader.
The second rule of thought leadership: don’t call yourself a thought leader.
Instead, position yourself as a student. It doesn’t matter if you are new to the game or have a PhD.
I have people approach me all the time wanting to be on the podcast. Many of them have PhD’s and want to share their ideas. However, the problem is that while their degree does them some credit I don’t know them. They don’t have authority with me, and establishing authority with people is easier to do as a student.
I came up with a rhyme that’s stuck with me and helps me to remember this concept.
If they watch you grow, they’ll know that you know.
Instead of walking into the conversation with authority, humble yourself and recognize that everyone has more to learn.
By positioning yourself as a student and sharing what you are learning people have the chance to watch your process as you develop your thoughts and ideas, allowing you to build authority with them.
Plus, as you begin to propose new ideas and solutions, you are less likely to get shut down and called out because you are learning alongside everyone else and approaching things with humility, instead of pride.
As you are going through this process there are some things that you can do to help build authority:
- Ask good questions: Remember, you are learning too so ask as many questions as you can and reach out to those who know more than you. This is one of the benefits of the podcast. I get to learn from all sorts of professionals about all the things that they are learning and the ideas that they have.
- Test things out and share the results: When you have ideas or theories, test them out and share what you find, even if it didn’t reach the conclusion you thought it would.
- Show up in the comments and DM’s: Interract with people and be helpful. Part of this process is putting what you learned out there and using it to help others. That’s ultimately the goal of thought leadership anyway – to help people do things better.
- Invite Criticism: You are learning, and one of the best ways to fast track your learning experience is to invite criticizm from others who have more experience. If you have a theory you want to test out, put it out there and ask what other people think. Look for feedback.
And remember, there are always more people at the beginning of the journey. You may not have a lot to share now, but share what you have learned for the sake of those who are farther behind than you. Over time, that number will grow bigger and bigger.
The Results of Learning in the Light
Ultimately, the process of becoming a thought leader is a slow game, but you win it by gaining authority one person at a time.
As you develop your ideas and hone them through interacting with people on social media you may find that they have grown some momentum and decide to write a lengthy blog post about it, or even write a book.
All this begins by positioning yourself as a learner and looking for ways to help. People will have questions about a niche idea and begin to look to you for authority because they watched you grow through this process of learning, testing, and receiving feedback.
This is how real authority is built.
You can’t just launch into their lives and claim authority, regardless of your degree. It happens one person at a time as they watch you grow.
Time to practice what I preach: what do you think of this theory? Have you seen it ring true? Or, have you seen examples where it wasn’t?