Becoming a thought leader in your field – someone whose ideas influence others – comes with huge professional benefits, both in and outside your company. Being seen as a thought leader will increase your visibility and standing with the people with the most influence in your company and your field, increase your authority and credibility, and position you and your team to get more resources and attention. It will also increase your access to other thought leaders, which can improve your team’s work.
Becoming a thought leader in your field might seem like something that takes decades – but with effort in the right places, it doesn’t need to. It won’t happen overnight, of course, but here are five steps that will get you moving down that path.
1. Find where other thought leaders and influential people in your field hang out – websites, LinkedIn groups, conferences, professional associations – and spend time there yourself. Read what people there are reading (blogs, journals, whatever it might be) and pay attention to the issues and ideas that they’re talking about. Then, start talking with them! Share your own ideas, react to theirs, ask questions, and generally become a reliable presence there.
2. Create a solid online presence. It used to be that becoming known as a thought leader required things like speaking engagements and appearing on TV. Those things still help, but these days you also use the Internet to build your reputation. You can provide value on social media by sharing relevant articles on LinkedIn and Twitter [Consider sharing this one], responding to other people’s queries, and throwing out questions for discussion. And if you find you like those things enough, you can even start your own blog to share your thoughts on and analysis of trends and issues in your field. (Or if this is too much of a time commitment, try guest blogging on someone else’s site.)
3. Reach out to the people you find most interesting. Tell them what you like about their work, and show them what you’ve been creating yourself. Especially if you’re blogging, getting your work in front of other influencers can be key in spreading it more widely. But this isn’t just about finding avenues of promoting your work; these are people with whom you can kick around ideas, talk to about what’s on their minds, and learn from how they manage their own presence in your field.
4. Be extremely helpful to other people. If you hear someone talking about a problem they’re having trouble solving and you have thoughts on it, offer to share your thoughts (or even just be a sounding board). If you find a solution that works well for a problem your team is facing and you think it could be helpful to others, reach out and tell them about it. Make yourself available to answer questions and serve as a resource. Do enough of this, and you’ll develop a reputation as a knowledgeable, helpful person who people start referring others to.
5. Don’t feel you have to know everything. You don’t need to try to position yourself as an expert if you aren’t one (and trying to do that risks harming your credibility). Simply presenting yourself as a smart, thoughtful person with a passion for discussing issues in your field is all you need, especially when you’re starting out on this endeavor. People will actually respect you more for being clear about what you know and what you don’t know.
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