You’ve seen them in your industry and your community: the names you recognize instantly, sharing their knowledge. We call them thought leaders, and joining their ranks may be easier than you expect.
You may have sat in the audience at conferences or other industry meetings, listening to people whose backgrounds were similar to yours. But unlike you, they’re regarded as experts. When a business publication reports on major trends affecting your industry, those are the people who get quoted time after time. Sure, they’re good people, but you know every bit as much as they do. Why are they called out as thought leaders? Who selected them?
It might surprise you, but most of them initiated the process. And you can do the same to support your company, your causes, and your career.
I may not know you, but I can draw some conclusions about you. You’re a pretty smart person, because you’re part of the group that reads columns like this in an effort to learn more. As you’ve advanced through your career, you’ve accumulated a great deal of knowledge – not just raw facts and other data, but a deep understanding of how things work and fit together.
Why isn’t the outside world as impressed with your level of knowledge? Most likely, it’s because you’ve never shared it publicly.
I’ve worked with hundreds of thought leaders across my career, and every one of them attained that status largely because they spoke up. They didn’t sit in front of their laptops and think “Gee, I wish someone would ask my opinion.”
Instead, they spotted opportunities to share what they have learned, which paid two dividends. First, they were able to educate others in their industry, people who gained that knowledge without having experienced the struggles they endured. Second, they elevated their personal and professional reputations.
Know how your industry association regularly sends out those “call for presentation” emails, seeking speakers for the next conference or workshop? They answered those calls. Know those articles in trade publications, guest blogs, and other places? They reached out to the people in charge and asked if they would be interested in their viewpoint.
Just as salespeople know they can’t grow their business by sitting in the office and waiting for business to drop into their laps, the thought leaders recognized they had to act to share their expertise with a wider audience.
What about you and your company? Maybe you employ an engineer who has developed a process that eliminates one of your customers’ most common frustrations. Perhaps your CEO has a unique understanding of one of your key markets. Or it could be that you believe your industry doesn’t recognize the threats embodied in a proposed piece of legislation. What do those scenarios have in common? They’re all great opportunities for demonstrating your thought leadership.
You may be hesitant because you lack the time to develop articles or assemble presentations. Maybe you hate writing. The thought leaders you admire may have been in a similar position, but they found a simple solution. They’ve engaged other experts like ghostwriters or public relations firms to help them develop and share their messages.
For example, many of the thought leaders I’ve worked with turned to me because they lacked the talent or bandwidth to capture their thoughts in the form of speeches, guest blogs, magazine articles, social media posts, or other channels. My role is to develop an understanding of what they know and wish to convey, and turn that understanding into a polished message.
Is there anything deceptive about becoming a thought leader with a little help from a professional writer or publicist? Not at all. Those helpers don’t have your knowledge. You do, and they’re simply taking your expertise and putting it in a form that allows others to benefit. Reaching out for that help also allows you to focus your valuable time where it’s needed most.
You may wonder what magazine editors and their counterparts at other channels think about this ghostwriting business. Frankly, they embrace it for a couple reasons. First, they have a never-ending hunger for well-written articles on subjects people like you know better than everyone else, because their readers are desperate for that kind of information. Second, they’re also busy people. They know a professionally written piece will not only present the subject matter in a more meaningful and engaging way, but it will require significantly less editing and polishing than something submitted by a non-author.
You can raise your profile and become one of your industry’s thought leaders through a great deal of personal effort. Or you can use the approach described here and attain the stature you’re after faster and more easily. Seems like an easy choice to me.