The Link Between Thought Leadership and LinkedIn

thought leadership qualities

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:

  • Books/eBooks
  • Articles
  • Blogs
  • Speaking
  • Networking
  • 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:

  • Videos
  • White papers
  • Comments in groups
  • Webinars
  • PowerPoints

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

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Mark Amtower Mark Amtower is an award-winning Government Contracting consultant; LinkedIn and social media coach; keynote speaker & Amazon best-seller. You can reach him through LinkedIn or at Federal Direct.

17 Reactions
  1. You make some really interesting points about thought leadership here. This term is bandied about so often these days, that in many ways it’s lost it’s meaning. And you can spot the pretenders filling the echo chamber a mile away.

    When I say echo chamber, however, it doesn’t always need to have a negative meaning. Not everyone is meant to be a thought leader, but some people are able to learn, execute, and present an evolution of an idea (even if not 100% original). I think these kinds of people can be thought leaders to too, even if not highly esteemed or recognised.

  2. Stacey- Amen! I am starting to see more and more people claim to be a “thought leader” on their LinkedIn headline…based on WHAT??

  3. That’s true. You can only trust a thought leader if he or she fulfills all the factors included here. The need to communicate across different platforms is a must as well as being deeply knowledgeable about the topic.

  4. Great post, Mark.

    I do have a problem with one of your “requirements,”though.

    “Serving on association committees.”

    What if the association is purely a politically-focused one, like the one that seems to dominate the industry I’m in?

    Better yet, what if this “association” believes in, supports, and throws hundreds of thousands of dollars towards the side of the aisle I mostly disagree with?

    You see, I’m one who stands on principle. I won’t join an association that is at odds with what I believe…what i believe to be right in this sometimes crazy world of ours.

    I HAVE been called a thought-leader in my industry. Am I? Maybe.

    But, if it means that I have to join my industry’s largest “association,” I’d rather not be referred to as one.

    Make sense?

    The Franchise King®

    • Joel
      there are those associations that seem to act like high school cliches. Hopefully there are alternatives, bt if not, a thought leader doesn’t have to fulfill ALL the criteria, but most.

      The important factor remains recognition from those who inhabit the niche.

      • For sure, Mark.

        I just wanted to point out that some “associations” aren’t right for everyone.

        The Franchise King®

  5. Joel- I have left a few organizations that acted that way, where only the “traditional” methods were acceptable. Like most of us in the small biz world, I have limited time and I prefer not to spend it with the quarrelsome and contentious, those so set in their preferences and habits that they don’t see the world moving by. Move on- they aren’t worth your time.

    • Mark,

      It’s nice to hear that.

      If more people would do that, changes would happen. New associations would be started. Niche ones.

      Thanks for this thought-provoking post.

      The Franchise King®

  6. I would add that thought leaders often make unique & valuable connections between their knowledge and other, seemingly non-related areas. For example, Steve Jobs recognized that the iPod was more about Apple getting into the music business than the hardware (as we can see with the success and longevity of iTunes while the iPod is virtually extinct).

  7. Robert- true. Malcolm Gladwell addresses this in The Tipping Point and others have referenced it as well in multiple venues – lots of good info out there. So happy Small Biz Trends is here to act as a “Reader’s Digest” for great ideas!

  8. Just like Leadership. Becoming a thought leader in a particular niche or market is earned not given. So I guess as you said if some of your peers view you as authority in the same niche that will be a clear indication that you are slowly becoming a thought leader w/o even knowing it.

  9. I like the idea of cultivating a “Sharing Mentality” in the article. I have been able to consistently “spot” thought leaders and talk with them. On my LinkedIn profile for free download, for example, is an article I wrote with Seth Godin in 2013. It examines his concept of a “Linchpin Leader” and looks to describe “how to” lead change as such a leader. The defining characteristic of a thought-leader is “Shows Deep Knowledge”. This knowledge is so deep and so clear to them that they simply see past common misconceptions and continue developing their own definite point of view regarding their market niche. They may have been doing this for 25 years or more when you meet them. They often have high-energy and can be very generous with their time – if you share a common passion for their work or field. For the past 10 years, I have found it both fascinating and transformative to seek out and talk with these individuals.

  10. George- I will take a look at that article- thnx for sharing (no pun intended!)

    Jomer – excellent point. Often thought leaders are so busy thinking/writing/sharing they really don’t think of themselves as a thought leader.

  11. Fascinating discussion. Eric Stein is a professor in the business school at Penn State who has spent the last several years researching creative behaviors, teaching business students how to express creativity in the workplace, and identifying critical success factors for innovation.

    The bottom line is that many schools and companies are just not doing a good job at nurturing creativity. However, his work indicates that creativity can be fostered. Check out for more info.

  12. Peter
    Thanks for the comment & the link to Dr Stein- interesting stuff. The fostering of creativity in many schools and businesses seems to management to de-focus away from near-term profits. I’ve had the good fortune to work with and advise a few large and small companies that do not feel that way.