Six Steps to Becoming a Thought Leader

leaderThe world is full of self-proclaimed ‘gurus’, experts, and talking heads. They pop up daily on television and radio, on the Internet, at conferences, in trade magazines, and even in hometown newspapers. Some are well-known due to their success with high-profile clients, some write books, while others are merely “famous for being famous” – people adept at the art of self-promotion. 

Why would you want to be one of them?  People instinctively believe that anyone they see on a news show, in the press, or keynoting a conference must be an expert or they wouldn’t be there. It’s a huge leap of faith. Moreover, if they like what they see, hear, or read, some will buy the expert’s book or hire the expert’s consultancy.

The fact is that many of these thought leaders aren’t any smarter than the local colleague who isn’t on TV. They merely know how to transform their status as an ‘expert’ into more income.

The good news is that, in our pervasive media environment, thought leaders on all subjects are constantly in demand. A competent professional can easily join their ranks by following just a few easy-to-master steps.

Knowledge:  Credibility is vital. That means a claim of expertise needs to be supported by pertinent knowledge and proven experience. Most professionals with five years’ or more in their field will have no trouble meeting this criterion. There’s no need for a diploma or heavy academic background and, unless you’re giving legal or medical advice, no license is required. Just being who you are will do nicely, thanks.

Image:  It’s important that you be able to effectively communicate what you know. The ability to write clear and compelling text, to stand up and fearlessly speak to groups, and to have a neat, professional appearance combine for a winning image. Can’t write? Outsource it. Are you afraid to speak in public? Join Toastmasters. Not fashionable? Consult a tailor and a stylist. No excuses!

Outreach: Whether you prefer meeting and mingling, being interviewed by the media, writing articles or blogs, or speaking at conferences, there are plenty of ways to comfortably reach out to potential clients. To make a lasting impression, give everyone you meet something more than a business card as a memento. Books are a great leave-behind, and impart a lasting impression. Above all, to become a thought leader, you need to get out there – literally or figuratively. Be visible and accessible.

Trust: The adage that people do business with those they know, like, and trust has never been truer. Lack of integrity is a deal-breaker. An expert can be well-known and likeable, but the moment trust is lost, the game is over. Earning trust isn’t too difficult. Retaining it should be easy.

Opportunity: Develop a marketing plan that puts you in front of the media. Your outreach efforts will pay dividends, but they need to be monetized. Commit to following up immediately when potential clients reach out to you. Playing hard to get is a loser’s game; always respond with a sense of urgency. Emails and phone calls should be returned within hours, not days. As a thought leader, you’ve sold them on what you can do. Now’s the time to ask, “How can I help you?”

Exploration: Tenders are transactions. We strive to build relationships.  Great clients don’t shop price alone, because they see the value in a history of trust, in proven ability and in genuine partnership. Professionals look beyond today’s immediate task and explore other areas where they or colleagues from other disciplines can help, too. Besides, referrals are a two-way street – and earning a reciprocated referral is the badge of an opinion leader.


Scott H. Lewis is managing director for the CIS region of Signature Europe. A former journalist and public relations counselor, he has provided crisis, public speaking and presentation training to senior executives across Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. He is the author of “60 Seconds to ‘Wow!” a book on presentation skills.  An American, he has lived in Kyiv, Ukraine for more than a decade.

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