Great leaders constantly look ahead to the future, driving innovation in their respective fields. True disruptors like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Steve Jobs-the pioneer of Apple, and marketing guru Seth Godin have revolutionized the way we market and consume some of the most important products and services in our daily lives.  Over the years as leaders have made their mark, the term-“Thought Leadership” has emerged as a label assigned to these individuals and others for their ability to see future trends and share their knowledge and experiences with others.

For most people, the concept of becoming a thought leader used to be out of reach, only reserved for the elite. But with the rise of content, professional and social networking platforms such as WordPress, Linkedin and Twitter, it has become easier than ever to pole vault yourself into the desired position of knowledge kingpin. In fact nearly 2 million blog posts are published on the WordPress platform daily and over 200 billion tweets were sent in 2015.

This is both good and bad. While the opportunity exists to brand yourself as a thought leader within your industry, it has also has created a lot of noise in content land-watering down what it truly means to be a thought leader. In other words- to truly reach your audience and make an impact it takes more than re-tweeting a bunch of tweets all day, recycling random content on Linked in, and hearing yourself talk on periscope.

The real definition of a thought leader is someone that prospects, clients, followers, competitors and industry leaders acknowledge as go source for vision, information and knowledge in a specific area of expertise.

So whether you are an accounting firm looking to grow your influence or an inbound marketing expert wanting to help small businesses grow, there are a few simple truths to becoming the Jedi master in your field or domain:

True Thought Leadership Begins Within

Thought leaders set themselves apart not only through innovation but also with the passion that drives innovation. As Denise Brosseau of the Thought Leadership Lab points out:

Thought leadership is not about being known, it is about being known for making a difference.”

Thus, the first step on the long road to becoming a true thought leader involves identifying your passion, then using it to fuel an overarching mission. Ideally, this mission will be narrow in scope, yet ambitious enough to attract a tribe or following. Focusing in on the appropriate mission may take some time as thought leaders are often struck with inspiration when they least expect it. So as you search for a calling, continue to learn anything and everything you can about your area of passion, while also consulting with team members and other fellow professionals to pinpoint problems that need solving.


Solve a Problem

The greatest leaders aren’t great just because they are entrepreneurs, CEO’s and social philanthropists. They become thought leaders because they wake up every day looking to solve a problem aligned to their purpose. A great example is Jim McKelvey, co-founder of Twitter, Square and now LaunchCode.

Square, for example, was born out of the inability for small businesses to grow without an easy to use tool to process payments:



Jim has now started LaunchCode, an idea born out of a challenge when he was at Square, where he had a hard time finding enough development talent. Jim, in developing LaunchCode, found a way to look at a challenge from a different angle, changing the landscape of the human capital market in the tech arena. The result: An apprentice program that connects talent to corporations and shrinks the talent gap in the US.

Over the years Jim has been on CNN, CNBC, in Forbes, you name it. Why? Because he is a problem solver first and then looks for ways to share what he knows with those around him.

Find your Platform

Once you develop your mission and have a clear solution to the challenges you have overcome, the next step to growing as a thought leader is to find a platform to share your thoughts and experiences. A solid social media presence can quickly improve your reach, connecting you to both your ideal audience and to other influencers within your industry.

The ideal social media post will prove that, in addition to knowing what you’re talking about, you are willing to take calculated risks. Both qualities are essential in a thought leader.

However, stay clear of trap of pushing out run of the mill content. Try asking a pressing question or sharing your experience of how you overcame a roadblock in your life. Don’t be afraid to push the envelope, after all no one follows leaders that are ordinary.

Another platform to consider is blogging. If you don’t have a blog you are missing out on one of the greatest tools in your arsenal to share your wisdom and experiences with your target audience and monetize on your success. Whether you share your stories and content on your own blog or on tools such as Medium, LinkedIn, and Quora, the key is to turn your readers into fans by creating an authentic relationship with them.

A great example of this is Chris Brogan’s blog.  Forbes listed Chris as one of the must-follow marketing minds of 2014, plus listed his website as one of the 100 best websites for entrepreneurs. Chris does a masterful job of using his blog as a vehicle to connect, engage and inform his target audience with insightful content and resources to help businesses grow.

From one-on-one discussions to broad social media updates, a variety of approaches can be used to establish authority and catapult yourself into the echelon of thought leadership.

The phrase “thought leader” is starting to become an overused, buzzword in business today. With the explosion of online pretenders it is important to separate yourself from the herd by identifying your purpose, solving problems for your target audience, and finding a platform to reach your followers and influencers. It’s time to reclaim what it really means to be a thought leader: disrupting your space with innovative solutions, not watered-down, recycled ideas and content.