How do you become a thought leader?

Oftentimes, in order to get a senior leadership position in a line of work, there is a need to be seen as a thought leader. Enhancing your thought leadership enables you to grow your gravitas, increase your confidence in your own ability, and often provides a data point that can be used to highlight your value and request higher pay and status. But how does this work, and how can you become a thought leader?

Get noisy on your key topics

As a leader who wants to influence and be treated as a thought leader, you need a clear voice that is sharing a consistent message. Start by specifically defining the 2 – 3 topics you are a thought leader on (sub-topics can live under these) and then find ways to share regularly and authoritatively with those who you want to take you more seriously and their first degree contacts (word of mouth is very powerful). 

Grab thought leadership opportunities that bring instant rewards (and work up to bigger wins)

Find a platform (or two! Or three!) which is a good fit with the topics you want to be a thought leader on. It could be LinkedIn, or the intranet, or an industry journal or conference. Focus initially on easy actions which start to build your presence and then as your confidence and visibility grows, you will find it easier to access bigger, hairier opportunities. You may already be partway on this journey. Keep going. 

Check you’re conveying good physical gravitas

I feel as though I’m betraying womankind by typing this, but I’d give similar advice for men, too, as it’s a key part of being taken seriously: if you want to have status, check that your kinaesthetics are working in your favour. This means using body signals to convey you’re senior and not going anywhere. Key checks: you’re making eye contact, you have a good handshake, your clothes don’t look as though you’ve grabbed them off the floor and made a dash for it. Allow your body to take up space. Square shoulders. Relaxed but firm posture. No cowering. And even if you know that someone is trying to talk down to you, you can choose not to respond to that and use your body language to reject this power play they’re attempting. 

 … And great verbal gravitas, too

You should also check that you’re using language which suggests you know you have a high value to this conversation. Own your ideas, e.g., ‘I recommend that we….’ or ‘based on what I’ve observed.’ Don’t feel you have to talk too much – that comes across as a bit desperate, but speak up when you have something to say and believe that it’s a point worth making.

Now, give it time

The final stage is the most frustrating one: give it some time to work. You’ll likely find it positively impacts how you see yourself as well. Once you feel you’re getting noticed by a wider set of stakeholders, make an approach and ask for a salary or position commensurate with your reputation and knowledge. Of course, you can cite projects you’ve been involved with that have gone well as well, and all the usual stuff. But you can also show how you really know your stuff, you have a great external reputation and, lurking in that is the underlying threat of how much they stand to lose if they don’t harness your talents.


Three links for leaders looking to be thought leaders 

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