There are so many thought leaders in the entrepreneurial community that I follow their content on a daily or weekly basis. Nationally recognized leaders like Jeff Besos and Tony Hsieh and to a more niche audience people like Brent Beshore and Lisa Calhoun are consistently sharing their expertise and opinions in articles, interviews books and via social media. They are regarded as true visionaries and they take the role of an industry thought leader seriously. If you’re regarded as a thought leader in your industry like these people, you have a similar responsibility to continuously add value to your field with the content you create. Your responsibilities as a thought leader could range from contributing to publications to speaking at events, being interviewed for TV or radio, and possibly even publishing a book on your expertise. Any method that allows you to engage an audience and truly add value through your content is valuable — if you know your stuff.
There are dozens of thought leaders who have done this very well and have contributed in-depth insight to their industries by continuously working to make themselves better and share their expertise in a more meaningful way. There are other thought leaders who seem to have started and then lost their mojo. I’d like to challenge you, and them, to be a better thought leader.
- Continuously educate yourself.
Subscribe to newsletters, like our company’s newsletter, “Contributor Weekly,” or follow blogs that continuously provide ways you can improve your ability to share. These newsletters can provide anything from grammar tips to insights into how you can better distribute your knowledge on social media. Educating yourself is important because, as a thought leader, you’re responsible for staying ahead of the curve in your field. If you’re not reading industry publications and challenging yourself in the way you share your expertise, you’re missing something. And the people looking up to you are watching, too — if it seems like you’ve grown stale and aren’t capable of building any new skills, what does that say about their abilities? Being a thought leader also means leading by example.
Think about what makes sense for you. If you can explain your opinions in the written word wonderfully but need help speaking, consider hiring a speaking coach; if you need help on the writing side, enlist the assistance of an editor. If you know that producing content is the most important task on your to-do list, block off an hour to read up on it and talk to others who produce content. Set up times to have coffee with other thought leaders in your field. You’re not going to be a better thought leader by just sitting there.
- Keep tabs on publications and other thought leaders in your industry.
Keeping tabs on people can be time-consuming if you have to read through every single one of their tweets, posts, or status updates. Make it easy to keep up — and stay ahead — by finding tools to minimize the noise. Brook is one tool that emails you every morning with the top tweets from the Twitter users you select. Chances are the publications you contribute to tweet — a lot. There’s no way you can catch every tweet they send, so utilizing a service like this allows you to see which tweets (and, therefore, which articles) are the most popular. This information can help you understand what kind of content your audience is wanting.
You can also use these tools to keep tabs on other thought leaders in your industry to make sure you’re adding relevant opinions and expertise to the industry conversations, not simply repeating what others have said. If you aren’t keeping tabs on what others are saying, you risk becoming irrelevant or, worse, sharing thoughts that have been espoused a thousand times — and in a much less compelling way.
- Listen to your audience.
When you write an article or speak at an event, don’t ignore your critics. Responding to negative comments or taking the hard questions will challenge you to become a better thought leader. If you shield yourself from the critics, you’ll never improve, and you probably won’t be asked back. Some of the entrepreneurial thought leaders I respect most do an admirable job of admitting when something they believed has changed, or they acknowledge moments when they misspoke.
Listening to your audience also allows you to understand where your expertise is needed. If you’re asked the same three questions at every event you speak at and every radio show you’re interviewed on, maybe it’s time to expand on those answers in book form. The audience in your industry will tell you what they want from you if you simply take the time to listen. A great example of this is Lisa Calhoun deciding to write her book, “How You Rule The World”. She realized that her female clientele kept asking the same questions and she kept writing and speaking on the same topic, so it was time to share that expertise in a book form. You need to be able to acknowledge when this time comes for you and give your audience what they want.
Not everyone is, or even should be, considered a thought leader. If people are asking to hear more from you, whether in publications or on stage, you owe it to them to make sure you’re delivering your best. Just as an athlete conditions to make sure he’s always at the top of his game, you need to condition your expertise and delivery to perform as a top thought leader should.