11 Steps to Becoming an Industry Thought Leader

When you think of someone like Elon Musk, what do you think of?

Personally, I think of innovation and new ideas…unsurpassed brilliance…I think of someone who boldly and independently forges a new path for humanity.

In other words, Elon Musk is the quintessential thought leader. He is a trusted authority figure, so powerful that when he makes predictions, people generally accept those ideas as the truth. He isn’t afraid to defy the status quo and go against the norm, both in his thoughts and his behavior.

Just Googling his name pulls up a few recent news searches, one of which, from CNET, is titled “Civilization on Mars could take 100 years to establish, says Elon Musk.” Just from the title alone, it’s clear that Musk’s predictions are seen as reality.

He has completely changed the way that the world looks at issues like sustainability, artificial intelligence and life on Mars. People look to him as not an authority figure but the authority figure when it comes to the future.

Which begs the question: How can you become the Elon Musk of your industry?

1. Find Your Niche

You know the expression: “jack of all trades, master of none”? If you try to be a thought leader of everything, chances are, you will end up the thought leader of nothing.

Let me ask you this: If you were getting knee surgery and you could choose between the surgeon who is a general surgeon who claims to have experience with every kind of surgery under the sun and the surgeon who is specialized in knee and leg surgery, which one would you go with? I don’t know about you, but I would much rather choose the surgeon who is specialized in the surgery that I am going to have. This may be an extreme example, but the same applies for thought leadership.

Here’s another example: Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, has become a thought leader of introversion and extroversion personality traits. She did not try to become a thought leader of all personality psychology; rather, she picked a very specific topic and became the master of that subject, going on to write a book and give a TED talk on the topic.

The key is to home in on a smaller niche where there isn’t as much competition. This is especially important if your industry is highly competitive. You’re going to have a lot harder time standing out if you are competing with many other well-established thought leaders.

For instance, if your company is a financial services company covering a wide-range of services, you could focus your energies on only one of those services and establish yourself as the boss of that one particular service. If you try to be a thought leader of all financial services, you are not only going to face much more competition, but, just like the general surgeon, your credibility will probably also be undermined.

2. Build Your Blog

Before anything, you need to establish your voice. If you aren’t already, start publishing content once a week (at least) under your name. The more opinionated the article, the better. Let your personality shine through. Create content that is truly unique and original to you and your brand, that can’t be found anywhere else online.

3. Guest Post

Once you determine your niche and start blogging, start to guest post on other blogs. Note that you should probably wait until you have been blogging consistently for at least several months before you do this.

Guest blogging will help you get to the next step: eventually writing for trade publications.

4. Network

If you want to become a thought leader, you have to build your network. Get out there and mingle in person with other industry leaders. Attend local events and conferences. Reach out to other influencers—online and offline. If you have many influencers in your network, people will assume that you are one of them.

5. Interview Other Thought Leaders 

Get in touch with the influential leaders that you meet at those networking events or connect with online, and interview them.

What will this accomplish? Firstly, it will help you to gain authority on your own blog, as your brand will become synonymous with the person that you are interviewing. Secondly, your interviewee might repost the content on their social media when it’s published, which will help to further your reputation.

6. Give Speeches

If you’re anything like me, just seeing a photo of someone on a stage gives you the impression that they must be someone important, no matter who they are. There’s just something about standing up on a stage in front of a crowd of people that denotes authority. It takes guts to do, and people recognize that—and will respect you for it.

Start out speaking at small industry events and then expand. Record the speeches and then publish them on your website and YouTube. If you’re not sure where to speak at, check out the National Trade and Professional Associations directory.

7. Start a Podcast

A podcast is another excellent way to get your name out there. Create a podcast that interviews other leaders in your industry. Ask insightful, thought-provoking questions. Share your opinion on relevant issues and current events related to your industry. And be sure that you follow through with it and establish a regular recording schedule (at least once a month).

8. Respond to Questions On Social Media

Social media is replete with curious people, posing questions—which means it’s the perfect place for you to get your voice heard and establish yourself as a thought leader.

Start browsing and find out what questions people are asking on LinkedIn Answers and Quora. What comments are people leaving on blog posts? Get in and join the conversation! Respond to questions with intelligent, well thought-out answers. Remember, the response that you give will be published on the Internet for the entire world to see. So make it a good one.

And if you find that there’s a certain trend in the questions asked (people seem curious about a certain topic), then why not write a blog post about it too?

9. Write a Book

Writing a book is the ultimate way to establish your authority on a topic. It takes patience; a great deal of knowledge and research; and acceptance (from book publishers), so chances are, people are automatically going to assume that you’re an expert on a topic if you wrote a book on it. Because, well, you kind of have to be…

10. Make Intelligent Predictions

It’s called thought leader for a reason. You can’t just regurgitate information that’s already out there. It’s your job as a thought leader to make thoughtful observations and predictions of what’s to come. Case in point: Elon Musk would never have become a thought leader if he didn’t continuously make predictions about the future. You won’t always be right; but the important thing is that you are not afraid to be wrong.

11. Never Stop Learning

As a thought leader, you should also remain open to new ideas and have a willingness to learn. Elon Musk read ten hours a day as a child, which helps explain why he is where he is today. Granted, we don’t all have ten hours a day to spend reading (I wish!), but make it a habit to read just half an hour or one hour a day. Reading non-fiction will make you more knowledgeable, while reading fiction will expand your mind and make you a more empathetic person. In other words, reading will turn you into an even better thought leader.


Now, after all this, you might be wondering: This seems like a lot of trouble to go to. What’s in it for me at the end of the day?  

Well, a lot. For one, becoming a thought leader will help grow your business. How? People will naturally associate you with your company, which will result in more sales. Secondly, you have the opportunity to be a part of major change in your industry. How exciting is that!

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take a lot of posting, a lot of writing and a lot of networking.

But in time, you—and your business—will reap the benefits.

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