People often ask me how they can become a thought leader or an industry expert. They are keen to know how I keep creating new content all the time and how I stay ahead of my game. It’s an interesting question and I have to say it is not a hard and fast science. There are some things that one has to actually do, but there are also aspects to content creation and thought leadership that are less about doing and more about being and I’ll unpack both of them below in a bit of detail. However, there is also that thing called experience. You cannot buy insights that can only be gleaned over time, over the years. This is what gives a respected thought leader, who is able to stay at the top of their game for decades, real depth, because their theories and ideas are tried and tested – they have stood the test of time or been adapted as the years go by and the world changes, remaining relevant.
Things To Do To BECOME A Thought Leader Or Industry Expert
This is he DOING part:
- Read widely both in your area of specialty as well as from completely or seemingly unrelated fields. This is how you keep good perspective and how you might be able to connect some interesting dots others may not have thought of.
- Read books, blogs, magazines, current affairs, social media posts etc.
- Follow the work of other interesting people and read what they are writing about. Pick a few thought leaders to follow – watch and learn.
- Take yourself to conferences, seminars and workshops to learn more in your chosen field.
- Consciously work on your own personal development by doing courses and reading or listening to audio books.
- Challenge your perceptions on a regular basis.
- Stay committed to learning new things, unlearning old things that no longer serve you and relearning – all the time. It’s the only way to keep up and to stay relevant.
- Intentionally build a body of knowledge. Write your insights down in the form of articles and blogs. This is the best way to integrate what you have learnt. It trains your brain to connect the dots and sharpens your saw in terms of growing your body of knowledge and the vocabulary you need around your topic to be an expert.
- Get interviewed as often as you can by the media on your area of specialty. Even though I have done over 2 000 media interviews in the past 12 years, every interview is an opportunity to sharpen my saw because journalists sometimes ask questions I have never heard before, or phrase them in a different way that enables me to respond in new ways. I find myself sharing stories or pieces of information that I might not have shared before and then I make a mental note to self that this would make a great talk, article, blog or chapter for a book. In fact, one media interview that I did together with tech guru Arthur Goldstuck on Chai FM with Dr Dori Weil, resulted in Arthur and I writing of the best-selling book, Tech-Savvy Parenting (Bookstorm, 2014).
- Write opinion pieces and submit them to platforms such as EWN which has about 4-million followers.
- Share your thoughts via online videos.
- Be brave enough to write a book that follows a coherent argument and adds value in the area of your thought leadership
- Keep records and take notes. I am still very much a paper person and I like to make real hard notes. Some people prefer to file their notes digitally. However you like to gather info, make sure you know where to find it when you need it (this is probably my biggest challenge).
- When you read books, write all over them. I deface books all the time, then I know I have really read them properly.
- Keep up with the news and current affairs but don’t get bogged down by it either. One or two news bulletins a day is enough and check the headlines online. Is there anything going on that you should know about and be commenting on publicly?
- Give talks on your topic of expertise.
- Link your personal experience to your area of expertise. It makes it far more real and credible if you are not always only telling other people’s stories or examples you are borrowing from a book you have read.
How To BE A Thought Leader Or Industry Expert
This is the BEING part, more than doing:
- You need to let your brain do some of the work for you unconsciously by stopping, taking a break, a breather, a sleep or even a few days out of the office. Your brain needs time to file new information, connect it to old information and generally make sense of stuff. Sleep is essential in this process. So is going for a coffee with yourself or with a friend who is not remotely part of the body of work you are involved with. We need to change track or change gears from time to time for things to make more sense to us.
- Don’t get so close to the glass, or your topic, that you lose perspective.
- Change scenery. Get out of your office, away from your desk. Go for a walk, go and work in a coffee shop or another third space, let the grass tickle your feet, have a swim. It’s amazing how this can unlock new thoughts and connections.
- I do multi-sensory activities away from books and a screen such as baking, to ground me. I also find that when I do these sorts of things, or when I am doing mundane chores or showering, that’s when many new ideas and connections come to mind. I still need to invent a notepad for the shower!
- Consciously taking a pause to reset your internal clock, both physically and emotionally, is essential. I recently took myself down to see friends on the Durban South Coast and just a couple of days was all it took to shake some things around for me – different environment, different people, different conversations.
- Be inspired by others and your environment. Just watching a little girl or boy running freely in a garden can inspire a thought or connect a dot for you. Inspiration can come from the strangest of places.
- Be interested in other people. You will get more out of them that way and, in turn, they will be interested in you and open up a well of information and experiences that will enhance your own thought leadership.
- Ask yourself some regular questions – there are often some pearls to be found in the answers:
- What have I learnt today?
- How did I add value today?
- What surprised me today?
- Keep a personal journal – it can be enlightening to watch your own journey and see how your thought leadership develops in tandem with your personal development – we are not totally separate from our work.
- Get to know yourself really well as a person.
- Know your learning styles too.
- Be teachable. If you go through traumas, tragedies and challenging times watch how these moments shape you and resonate with the work that you do or how you interact with the world and other people. They are indispensable teachable moments and you should not underestimate their power to inform and revolutionise your work by shifting your perspective and deepening your understanding of human nature.
Your Thought Leadership Is A Reflection Of You And Where You Have Been
As you can see, thought leadership and becoming an industry expert is far from an exact science. Mine has expanded in recent times from pure parenting to human potential AND parenting and the powerful links between the two. I am absolutely loving the repositioning, the extension of my work, the valuable connection between the two, and how the changes are a reflection of who I am as a person, the value that I am adding to the world and the growth of my personal and professional brand.
It reminds me of my popular talk called ‘Which Jacket Are You Wearing Now?‘ in which I wear five different jackets that symbolise five seasons of my life across three different careers on the journey to building one distinct brand.
You can be a thought leader in your own home, at work, in your own business or various communities you are a part of. What are you an expert at and how are you INTENTIONALLY building a body of knowledge around that? What are your thoughts and opinions on things? Do you have practical solutions that could help others, and how do you share all of this with the world?
One of my really cool colleagues and friends is Douglas Kruger, also a multiple best-selling author and award-winning speaker. Doug is an expert on advising people on how to become industry experts and thought leaders. Do follow him and sign up for his Monday Motivation tips on how to move from amateur to expert which always contain a useful tip on thought leadership, or a challenge to get you to level up on your expertise. And do read his book Own Your Industry: How to position yourself as an expert (Penguin Random House). Doug and I have such mutual respect for each other’s thought leadership and expert positioning. You will learn alot from him.
So, what is your area of thought leadership or expertise? I would love to know. And do you have any questions on the topic? Do drop me a note in the comments section below.
Human Potential and Parenting Expert, speaker and author: Helping you win at work and life