Gaining Recognition as a Thought-Leader Through Personal Branding (Update: 2019)

In a world where meeting requirements is simply average and you either shape in or ship out, the current desire to be exceptional and to lead the pack couldn’t be greater. This sentiment is often at the basis of the ever popular concept “personal branding” (not to be confused with corporate branding). However, it’s important for even the most successful and established leaders to remember that the need to build and maintain your personal brand does not evaporate once you have become comfortable in your role. The fact of the matter is that entrepreneurial “fever” has caught up with almost every starry-eyed youth armed with a degree, and so enterprises are springing up at every sunrise as other meets its virtual sunset. Consequently, being known as an experienced and knowledgeable leader (or “thought leader”) in your field often puts seasoned executives in a realm of mentor-status where the burden-laden entrepreneur or overwhelmed industry newcomer seeks specific answers only you can provide.

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Thought Leadership Defined

To ensure we all resonate at the same frequency, let’s define this:

Who, exactly, is a “thought leader”? Or rather, what is thought leadership?

Well, according to Wikipedia, a thought leader is an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.

If, perhaps, Wikipedia’s definition seems almost too pithy, see this one: “Thought leaders are seen as trustworthy, go-to authorities among industry colleagues and peers,” says Jake Dunlap, Founder and CEO of the sales consulting firm, Skaled.

Dunlap went further by adding, “They possess an innate ability to contribute to the conversations happening today, while also being able to speculate on what is going to happen tomorrow. Rather than chime in on every topic, they set the pace for the industry and offer intelligent insights and informed opinions”.

Thought leadership isn’t just about business; it sweeps across every field resident under the galaxy. Thought leaders are the elite crop in a particular discipline who have not only attained the zenith of their field, but can offer priceless tips which expand and enhance anything within a particular niche, from cradle stage to peak heights. They are most sought after and often seem like something of an endangered species because, really; there is only a handful of them.

Thought leaders have the rare capacity to mentor even the most unskilled into greatness if that’s what the situation demands. They have proven that there is a height of excellence achieved through years of intense research, experience, mastery, exposure, and sacrifice. They have arrived at an elevated platform in their field where they become the first port of call for counseling, therapy, timeless nuggets, and mentorship.

However, many see thought leadership as just another cliché out of the depot of business jargon and some even likened it to “Competitive Advantage” in business; while attaining CA may likely have been at the very least of their achievements. Most thoughts leaders have surpassed that stage.

How then, can you gain recognition in the world of thought leadership? Well, it is at this proverbial intersection where thought-leadership and personal branding collide. Becoming a recognized “authority” in your field requires more than the experience it took to obtain the knowledge. It also requires marketing, online exposure, and good old-fashioned networking.

Why then, you may ask, is a thought-leadership status so desirable? Well, of course, positive notoriety for you on an individual basis will naturally translate into an increase in traffic on a corporate level, but may also lead to a possible secondary and rewarding endeavor in consulting or mentoring.

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With this in mind, one must think of the tried and true adage of the tree falling in the desolate forest. Does it make a sound? Congruently, will your knowledge be shared with those who need it most if it is not recognized? Follow these tips, from start to finish, for a better understanding of the basics of becoming a (well-known) thought leader in your field of choice.

1.  Mastery of your niche

There are various fields of human endeavors. We all fall into one, and right there in those fields, there are specialists whose roles are confined to a specific work jurisdiction. Take auto-mechanics for instance; there are some who specialize in just the electrical parts. So focusing on your unique area of specialty is one step to becoming a thought leader. That’s where mastery comes in. And you know that trying to be the proverbial “Jack of all trades” often translates to failure at knowledge. When you specialize, you dedicate time and resources to one narrowed down endeavor, and only then can you achieve mastery at it. You have it all at your fingertips.

2.  Get a mentor

You’re soon going to be a mentor, so it’s pertinent you get mentored. Never assume you know everything there is to learn. Present to someone higher, someone who’s been there in the same field when you when you were still deciding your direction in life, and glean from his or her reservoir of wisdom. Thought leaders learn by the day, and one of your best teachers is your mentor.

3.  Be visible and create your personal brand

“How did we make our camera store so successful so quickly? It was, in large part, the way I used social media to Thought Leadership - man holding lightbulbbuild my brand in conjunction with our business brand.” That was from Matt Sweetwood, a guest writer on Entrepreneur.com sharing his success story in which social media was a significant tool. Take a cue from Sweetwood; publicize yourself on social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, et al.) Don’t fasten yourself to one location and expect others to track you down. Explore every available strategy to get visible; you can run a blog? Fantastic. Get visible, join a social community online, post your offerings regularly, offer tidbits periodically, create awareness and you’ll soon start getting relevant.

4.  Promote your personal brand, network, and mentor.

There are strategic steps that are significant and rewarding in any field, and networking is one of them. Stretch your reach within and across the borders of your locality, play camaraderie with folks in the same field as yours but from a different milieu. The corollary is that it serves you an opportunity to learn one or two tangible things about your discipline from a different perspective which can supplement yours. Don’t settle in your locality, go out, go to workshops, go to conferences and seminars, meet people in your field and tap from them.

Start mentoring, gather some “rookies” and offer to coach them for free; urge them to come up with challenging questions in your discipline and try to answer in the best possible way.  A faster way to be well-acquainted with something is to teach it. Set up mock interviews and see how well you can deliver in such scenarios. This might seem like idling around, but detach from the frivolities, and treat it as the real thing. After all, it’s preparation for something big.

5.  Don’t rest on your oars

Granted, after a couple years of hard work, it’s now paying off, and you’ve given a pep talk that spurred some folks under you to success. Naturally, you think you’ve arrived, but in reality, it’s way too early to start reveling in your achievement. Delectation is rather premature at this stage. It breeds complacency and pride, and “the fall” is the outcome. Do not rest on your oars after a couple of attractive achievements. Dig up some more, re-position your research hat, and drill some more knowledge. Get a “pride absorber” – or an extremely grounded friend or associate — to tame you whenever you begin to assume too much air. When you relax, it threatens your credibility and might even set you adrift. You need to live ready and armed; you’re a thought leader, and people need to see you as just that, don’t ruin it by resting on your oars.

6.  Living up to your “brand” and status

The benefits of being a thought leader are in a slew of numbers. You become a consultant who not only stands out, but is sought out. Thought leaders defy age, gender, race, pedigree, and background in their fields of endeavor. When someone is at the top of their specialty, all other status concerns tend to dissipate. The ego or prejudgment that prevents those with such a mindset from approaching someone of dissimilar ilk falls to the wayside; regardless of your identity. “I may never have thought to reach out to him before, but he’s the best there is. I don’t have a choice; let’s consult him“. “My preconceptions may have gotten in the way, but she’s the only one who can fix our problem. Contact her now.” The key is to defy preference; and you can be that thought leader. Full set of perks are attached; the respect, the rewards, and all.

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However, don’t assume that your knowledge speaks for itself. 

We relay a fitting conclusion as stated by esteemed Forbes Council contributor, Wendi Weiner, Esq., in her article, “Personal Branding for Senior Management Requires These Two Things“:  “As personal branding continues to be a trend in the digital age workforce, it remains a powerful force in enhancing one’s executive leadership potential and growth. Therefore, wherever you go next in your career path, take your personal brand with you”. In other words, whatever your endeavor, your personal brand must follow. Utilizing social media and effective networking processes, and building your name as a respected and quality mentor are critical in being recognized and sought after as a respected thought leader in your field.

Remember, word spreads quickly, so “roll up your sleeves” and start working!

Fred Coon, CEO

Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200