The topic of thought leadership has been hot and heavy over the last year or two. Often discussed, speculated about and outright claimed by some, it is among the more misunderstood business concepts.
Many seem to think if they know something about anything, they can claim the “thought leader” position in a niche. Wrong.
You can be very knowledgeable about a subject, live in your mother’s basement with Dr Pepper and Cheez-Its and perhaps be a subject matter expert, but you are not a thought leader.
Thought leadership is not claimed. It is an acknowledgement from a niche community, usually afforded to a very small top tier of people in a given niche or category.
But what constitutes thought leadership? What qualities must a person have?
Thought Leadership Qualities
Shows Deep Knowledge
Most obvious is a deep knowledge of a market segment or topic, and developing a definite point of view regarding your market niche.
Recognized as Being on “Top of Your Game”
You have to be at the top of your game and recognized as such by your peers and others in your market niche. That means working hard at knowing not only what is currently going on, but what forces are coming to play in the near and long term in your niche, and having some thoughts on how to deal with those forces.
Uses Multiple Formats to Share Knowledge
You need to find, develop and make use of multiple formats to share your knowledge:
- Serving on association committees
Displays Acknowledgment to Peers
You should recognize that you are not “alone at the top” and that you have peers. When those peers say something, be prepared to comment and acknowledge the contribution. If you disagree, don’t be mean about it, simply offer your view. If you use their thoughts or materials, give credit to them.
Exhibits a Sharing Mentality
You need to have a sharing attitude. If you tend towards lecturing or talking down to people, you are just a know-it-all, not a thought leader. Go back to mom’s basement with a fresh box of Cheez-Its and a Dr Pepper for a time out.
Where Does LinkedIn Come In?
LinkedIn is the perfect venue for small business people to share information and to differentiate themselves. You should share all manner of formats on LinkedIn:
- White papers
- Comments in groups
Differentiation is the first step to thought leadership and too few companies do this, maintaining more of a “herd” mentality.
One of the major components of your differentiation strategy needs to be a strong LinkedIn presence. As I wrote in “It All Starts with Your LinkedIn Profile ,” your profile has to start the process of attracting people to you – so you can share more.
Once you have successfully attracted people, you can then begin to use the platform to position yourself as a thought leader. Sharing the type of information listed in the bullet points above and making a conscious effort to break away from the pack, the “herd” mentality, will have you well on your way.
If you approach your use of LinkedIn through the perspective of thought leadership and you begin to exhibit thought leadership qualities there – you will find that others begin seeking you out as such.
Thought Leadership  Photo via Shutterstock