A Thought Leader is almost always a single person who uses their skills, dreams, and imagination to become an inspiration within their field of work. Said another way, it is someone that inspires others with words, thoughts, dreams, and actions. Teams of people can become thought leaders as long as the members acquiesce to the concept of no single shining light.
Companies can become thought leaders as well, although a strong leader will often outshine the work of the company. Want an example of all of these? How about the late Steve Jobs and Apple Computer? Mr. Jobs and his friend Steve Wozniak built the Macintosh computer when no one thought it would be more than a toy. It defined the industry. He then took the concept of the old school Sony Walkman and reduced it to a one-button wonder called the iPod. It redefined that industry.
He became an iconic thought leader in technology because he dreamed the impossible and had the company, money, and talent behind him to make it happen. The clunky flip phone transmogrified into its great-grandchild, the iPhone. Then the iPad came from his imagination. He was probably the finest example of thought leader in the 21th century. He knew what he had to do. The teams he developed and the processes he created ensured the company would be around a very long time as a dominant provider of technology.
You’re Not Steve Jobs
Correct. You are not Steve Jobs. Nor are you Abraham Lincoln. Nor Ghandi. All of these thought leaders defined and redefined their respective spaces. You have a business to run and product to ship and people to deal with. Don’t forget the marketing, the landlord, the utilities and on and on. Maybe you are a manufacturer of water pipe, kitchen cabinets, or picture frames. Or something really exciting like a real estate business, a used car dealer, or a shoe store?
Can you become a thought leader in one of those worlds? The answer is yes, undoubtedly, one hundred percent, totally YES. You absolutely can become a thought leader and your business can also become the go-to place for whatever it is that you produce. A thought leader creates both evolutionary and even revolutionary advancements in their fields by urging others to be open to new ways of thinking and demonstrating blueprints for people to follow – they provide a method, processes, guidelines or a set of best practices.
How Do I Do That?
To start with, get the idea into your head that it can be done. Self-doubt is, by far, the hardest thing you have to overcome. But before we go any further, let me define what I mean when I use the words “thought leader”. I don’t mean what you think of yourself. You can not define yourself as a “thought leader” anymore than you can start calling yourself a physician (without all of the medical school stuff).
This is a label that someone else has to bestow. They, and truthfully it must be a “they” not just one other person, have to decide based on your experiences, your knowledge that you have shared, your public persona, and a dozen other things that you qualify as a recognized “thought leader”. This won’t be a short term event either. This may take years to be recognized along with expertise in a topic, and a high level of commitment.
The Nitty Gritty
So what’s the secret? Gather around children and let me tell you. That is the secret, right there. You have to tell everyone you are a thought leader. You do that with blog postings, articles in the appropriate literature, a modern, continuously updated business web site, a LinkedIn page, and speaking engagements at appropriate events. You have to work it and work it hard. And if you don’t have one, set up a personal web site or at least a page on your corporate web site. You can even share the same information from LinkedIn.
What about Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, and the hundred other sites that compete with them? Nope. They won’t help you unless your business is something like a photographer, wedding planner, or any type of personal business. But they all fall into the world of marketing. That’s not what I’m talking about. You said you want to be a thought leader, a recognized expert in your field. Someone who has the skills and ability to redefine an industry or at least your part of the industry. Your family and friends can’t bestow that title to you. It has to be from your competitors, clients, and peers. Maybe if you are trying to be a clone of someone like a Kardashian, then those sites will help. But that’s not going to lead you to the title of “thought leader” in any non-personal service industry.
The Time Problem
It may seem like an insurmountable problem. You just read my prescription for being a “thought leader” and it sounded like all of your time would be spent writing articles for publication, blog postings, creating YouTube works, speeches for industry gatherings and so forth. You are correct! Those are time killers and a lot of work. You still have a business to run. So you have to bring in outside help. I don’t mean a marketing company or a P.R. outfit. They have their place but they don’t have the specific knowledge to build you and your personal brand into the coveted “thought leader” title. It’s just not in their DNA. They want to “market” you and your products.
Look for a business consultant who understands what it means to be a “thought leader”. Someone who has helped others do that and someone who is probably a thought leader in their own right. In my case, I have been blessed to have been called a thought leader a few times and my company’s mission statement is “We help businesses create such high levels of economic value that together we redefine their respective industries.” Along with economic value through higher sales, better marketing, and improved processes and execution, we can help take you personally, and professionally, into the next level of leadership. It can be done.
The Consultants Role
An outside consultant can come into your business and help you redefine it by suggesting improvements in many areas. With a business, we have a unique set of dynamics to deal with, such as, are your sales processes getting the job done or do you have to personally intervene in every order that comes through? Are you turning over sales reps constantly or do you have long term people employed who can develop relationships with your clients? Are you providing more value to the clients without being asked and without an engagement agreement?
For you personally, are you attending the relevant industry events – not just with a booth somewhere on the floor but are you speaking? Have you had the speech written and have you given it to an internal audience? Did you tape it and review it? That can be extremely important for a great presentation. Often the industry events are begging for speakers. Do you have YouTube video’s on your website extolling the virtues of your company and its products? Do you have them linked to your LinkedIn page? These and a thousand other questions need to be asked and answered.
So get yourself and your business ready to travel the thought leader road. Use a consultant!
Tidewater Capital Services is an international private investment firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina. We believe that the true economic value of every asset is realized over the long term. Often that means holding an investment for years. To capture the true economic value, we seek to invest our own capital where there is a high-growth potential business, run by intelligent, trustworthy founders. Our capital, along with our many decades of experience, will often be the difference between success and failure. We encourage you to review our equity investment criteria page for more information.
Lee West - Founder & C.E.O.,
Tidewater Capital Services.