At some point in your career, you’re likely to see the term “thought leadership” or hear someone referred to as a “thought leader.” While the terms sound like jargon or buzzwords, the concepts involved are quite useful and simply bring to the surface some of the skills that we already intuitively recognise.
Grasping the idea behind thought leadership can help you not only identify thought leaders in your respective field but move towards becoming one yourself, reaping the benefits as a result.
In this article, we’re going to ask exactly what is thought leadership and how it can benefit your career, as well as identify some tips on becoming a thought leader yourself.
Thought leadership is when an individual, group, or organisation has an established reputation for being an authority on something. This could be an industry sector, field of expertise, or even a non-career-based niche. People look to thought leaders for insights and analysis, ideas, advice, and guidance.
Simply put, thought leaders are seen as useful experts and can be found within companies, social groups, sectors, industries, and even within online trends. Thought leaders can be found everywhere and are people who have the ability to not only contribute insightfully to matters of today but use experience and reflection to consider what may be important tomorrow.
You may even have a low-key thought leader sitting around your meeting table at work. This could be a manager, team leader, or even a rising star within your company. You can recognise them by their valuable contributions to discussions, their ability to understand which direction is best for projects and the company as a whole, and their fearlessness about expressing their point of view.
Organisations and businesses can also establish themselves as thought leaders and typically rely on content marketing and social media efforts.
There are 2 ways thought leadership can help your career:
Listening to established thought leaders is a great way to boost your career prospects. Whether it’s a person within your office, a company’s blog, someone on LinkedIn, or a well-known figure, absorbing their content and getting a feel for how they think and operate can leave a lasting impression on you. Learning from thought leaders introduces you to new ideas in your field, keeping you at the forefront of your field.
Content is typically books, podcasts, social media posts, blog posts, videos, lectures, industry journals, or, in the case of thought leaders in the workplace, simple everyday discussions and strategy meetings.
As your career progresses, aiming to be seen as a thought leader yourself can open up a world of opportunities. While a reputation as a go-to expert or reliable authority is a boon in itself, learning and relearning what works and doesn’t - as well as keeping abreast of industry goings-on - will mean you are always investing in yourself.
This means your skills, insights, and personal development doesn’t stagnate but evolve at the same pace as your career field. As you apply for new positions, jobs, and promotions, being recognised as a thought leader is often enough to give you the edge over the competition.
Tapping into the insights and ideas of thought leaders is a matter of finding where they express themselves and deliver content.
Most thought leaders will use one or more of the following as an outlet:
● Personal blogs
● Company blogs
● Industry magazines
Platform algorithms generally do a good job of identifying engaging content, so searching for relevant hashtags or looking for accounts with a lot of engagement can help narrow down your search. You may also already know the thought leaders within your field, industry, or workplace.
Note: thought leaders aren’t simply influencers. While influencers may have a lot of followers and produce engaging content, they are not necessarily seen as authorities that would be necessary to qualify as thought leadership.
While your career aspirations may not be as lofty as wanting worldwide fame and notoriety, being a thought leader within your field or industry can be a worthwhile career goal that can help leave your mark.
Becoming a thought leader is a gradual process and won’t happen overnight. As it is more a matter of opinion, thought leadership involves convincing others of your authority on a subject and this can take time.
To get started, try the following:
1. Be interested and engaged with your field: Keep abreast of new information and the latest developments. All industries and specialities change over time so absorbing the latest news and happenings regularly is important to know the current state of your industry.
2. Use LinkedIn: Share your thoughts and insights through status updates, group discussions, and well-researched and planned article posts. Considered and thoughtful posts like these can help get you noticed amongst your peers.
3. Network: Use every networking opportunity that comes your way and actively seek them out. By knowing a lot of people, you slowly develop a reputation and develop your knowledge base through association with people on similar career paths.
4. Take speaking opportunities: While nerve-wracking, dive in and take speaking opportunities. Always ensure you give your audience value through keen insights and observations that they may not have otherwise been exposed to.
Being a thought leader is a responsibility that is not for everyone. People will look to you in the workplace and elsewhere for your input that could influence some big decisions. While not everyone will want to put themselves into the spotlight, those who do can expect better career opportunities as a result.
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