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The Thought Leadership Guide: How to Become a Thought Leader

People from all walks of life and from across the world write and publish ideas in various industries. But not everyone enjoys the same level of authority and influence.

The people who enjoy the highest level of influence are known as "thought leaders." A thought leader is synonymous with influence, credibility, and innovation. It's not a title given by an academic committee, nor is it a title you can self-proclaim.

It's a title earned through dedication, clear vision, and the courage to share insights that challenge the status quo.

In this guide, you'll learn everything you need to know about thought leadership and how to become a thought leader.

You'll learn with tangible examples, case studies, and strategies that lay bare the journey to becoming a thought leader.

We’ll cover every facet, from the differences between thought leaders and content creators to the methodical process of establishing brand credibility.

If you've ever wondered what a thought leader is or would like to become one, read on.

Table of Contents

What Is a Thought Leader?

A thought leader is an individual recognized for pioneering innovative ideas in a particular niche.

Thought leaders aren’t just leaders in the traditional hierarchical sense; they're individuals who inspire innovation, establish credibility, and successfully influence others.

Thought leadership goes beyond writing and publishing ideas; thought leaders have a specific agenda or a specific message they wish to share with the world.

They utilize strategies that aim to change and shape the world in positive ways.

Magazine showing Richard Branson

In other words, thought leadership is about creating a significant difference in people's lives through insights.

Thought leaders offer their audience actionable insights that challenge the status quo.

Whether it's delivering a TED Talk, writing thought leadership social media content, or engaging with other thought leaders, their focus is on connecting information that matters.

However, the journey to becoming a recognized thought leader requires more than having excellent insights.

To become a thought leader, you need to create ideas that resonate with a target audience and present them through high-quality content that reflects expertise.

How to Become a Thought Leader

There are three keys to becoming a thought leader:

  1. Keep abreast of trends

  2. Stay connected with industry peers

  3. Continuously create and share relevant content.

Informed opinion leaders connect the past, the future, and the present, so it's important to keep a broad perspective around your field.

Someone pointing at a map

Industry influencers also have a way to connect information from their industry and make it relevant in the outside world. That's how they become trusted figures; their ideas become known outside their immediate circle of industry experts and shape global business and policymaking.

The main key to becoming a thought leader is to connect various elements. To do so, you need:

  • an understanding of your audience

  • industry know-how

  • a vision for the future

  • a personal philosophy

  • a clear personal or professional objective.

The journey to becoming a recognized thought leader requires more than having great ideas. You need to acknowledge your community, the world around you, the industry in which you operate, as well as a host of different factors.

Thought Leaders vs. Content Creators

It's important to understand the difference between thought leaders and content creators.

They both play unique roles in the way we learn and think about various topics, especially in business, but they fundamentally differ in nature, purpose, and outcome.

Let's explore these differences:

The Time-Bound Nature of Thought Leadership

Thought leadership is time-bound.

Thought leaders focus on the now — what's happening today, the latest trends, and the current news. Their content is designed to respond to and influence the present moment. They are the ones leading the conversation about current developments.

This immediacy is what sets them apart. For example, Allie K. Miller is a thought leader in the space of artificial intelligence.

Allie K. Miller speaking

Allie is constantly educating her audience about the latest AI news and how this is impacting businesses. Her content, across her social media channels,

The Evergreen Nature of Content Marketing

On the other hand, content creators focus more on evergreen content.

This means their work talks about topics that are always relevant and change little over time. They provide a stable foundation that remains valuable regardless of current trends.

A good example of content creation is Investopedia. Over the past decades, the authors at Investopedia built a solid library of evergreen content around investing. While Investopedia publishes news as well, we primarily know the website for its investing content.

Investopedia Logo

Likewise, many content creators online create evergreen content around investing. And while evergreen content is also a great way to reach readers and grow an audience or business, it's generally best to combine both evergreen content and thought leadership in the same strategy.

Noticing the Difference Between Content Marketing and Thought Leadership

The best way to understand the difference between content and thought leadership content is to pay attention to what you consume online.

When you read content online, ask yourself, "Is this content or thought leadership content?" Or, "Is this content evergreen or time-based?"

Also, make a practice of looking for both content and thought leadership content. When you need insights on current trends, turn to thought leaders. When you need basic information that stands the test of time, turn to content creators.

This understanding will help you make better decisions and develop a well-rounded perspective in both your personal and professional life. In the end, remember that both thought leaders and content creators have important roles in shaping your understanding and thinking.

Now, let's take a look at the fundamentals of business thought leadership.

After all, they are the key to making a real impact in your field.

The Fundamentals of Business Thought Leadership

There is more to thought leadership than having good ideas and sharing them with an audience.

Fundamentally, thought leadership is about connecting with humans, building a strategy, and having clarity.

Focus on the Human Aspect

When you talk about a few topics, do it in a way that makes your audience feel understood and supported. Your goal is to reach out and connect with them, showing that you genuinely care about their challenges and successes.

For example, you can tell a story from your personal or professional life. You can also tell a story from history or from somebody else in your life. The goal is to provide a human element that helps people connect to what you are saying.

People walking on the street.

Another great way to focus on the human aspect is to take into account human psychology. Human psychology and its biases are unavoidable. Use them to your advantage in your writing.

Here are 12 techniques and biases you can utilize:

  1. Anchoring Effect: The initial information readers encounter heavily influences their decision-making. Start your writing with impactful statements or facts to set the tone.

  2. Authority: Showing expertise or experience in your field can significantly influence readers. Use clear evidence, cite reputable sources, or share your unique experiences to establish authority.

  3. Choice Overload: Offering too many options can overwhelm and paralyze decision-making. Keep calls to action in your writing clear and limited.

  4. Confirmation Bias: People favor information that confirms their existing beliefs. Understanding your audience's preconceptions and aligning your content accordingly can make your writing more persuasive.

  5. Consistency and Commitment: People like to be consistent with what they have previously said or done. In your writing, encourage small commitments (like signing up for a newsletter) which can lead to larger ones over time.

  6. Framing Effect: How information is presented affects decisions and judgments. Carefully frame your arguments to align with your audience's values and interests.

  7. Like, Know, and Trust Factor: People are easily persuaded by individuals they like, know, and trust. Your writing style should be personable and relatable, creating a connection with your audience so they can get to like you, know you, and trust you.

  8. Loss Aversion: People prefer to avoid losses rather than acquire equivalent gains. Highlight what your audience might lose by not engaging with your content or services.

  9. Narrative Fallacy: People prefer stories over abstract concepts. Use storytelling to make complex ideas more relatable and memorable.

  10. Reciprocity Principle: People feel obliged to give back what they have received. In writing, offering valuable insights or solutions can prompt readers to engage more deeply with your content or services.

  11. Scarcity: Highlighting the uniqueness or limited availability of your content can increase its perceived value. This could be exclusive information or time-sensitive offers.

  12. Social Proof: People follow the actions of others. Including testimonials, success stories, or mentioning a large readership can enhance credibility and persuade new readers.

Building a Thought Leadership Strategy

A thought leadership strategy is a plan that guides you in sharing your perspectives.

A good thought leadership strategy helps you do three things:

  1. Choose the right topics

  2. Decide how and where to share your thoughts

  3. Figure out the best ways to connect with your audience.

Your strategy should reflect not just what you know, but also what your audience needs and wants to hear.

You should also choose the right topics that matter to your audience.

These should be areas where you have both expertise and passion. Think about what challenges people in your field are facing and how your knowledge can help them. The right topics will naturally attract an audience that's interested in what you have to say.

Understand that the ultimate goal of thought leadership is to inspire people. Your outlook should encourage them to think differently and strive for better solutions in their work and lives. It's about leading by example and showing how new thinking can lead to positive changes.

Defining Your Thought Leadership with Clarity

Clarity is critical as far as thought leadership goes.

To truly make an impact, your message must be crystal clear. This clarity is the cornerstone of The Architecture of Writing method, a unique method that informs how we work with our clients in ghostwriting, editing, coaching, or consulting.

Magnifying glass on world map

The first step in the Architecture of Writing is to identify the community you wish to address. This community is bound by common problems, interests, or traits.

The second step is to identify the conversations your community is having and what your unique angle is.

(Remember, you're engaging with a group of individuals who share something in common, and your message should resonate specifically with them.)

Engage with topics that are already relevant to your community.

Your content should add value to these discussions but in a completely original way. Introduce perspectives drawn from your personal experiences and background. Your angle should present something the community is missing.

Book and a bag

The third step is to define what you aim to achieve with your message – whether it’s to describe, explain, narrate, or persuade. This goal will guide your content's direction.

You also need to summarize your main point in one sentence—what we call the "thesis." This thesis keeps your message focused and direct.

Then, explore the deeper purpose of your message. Ask 'why' your perspective matters to add depth to your content.

By following these steps, you can create thought leadership that is not only authoritative but also deeply connected to your audience's needs.

If you're looking to refine your ideas into powerful messages, consider exploring our services.

In summary:

  1. Choose the group of people you want to talk to. They should share an interest or problem related to your field.

  2. Talk about something that your audience is already interested in. Your point of view should add something new and useful to this topic.

  3. Use your own experiences and knowledge to offer a different perspective on the topic. Make sure it’s something new for your audience.

  4. Show your audience why your unique view is important and what they can learn from it. This is important because

  5. Think about what you want to achieve with your writing. Do you want to explain something, tell a story, or persuade your audience?

  6. Write down your main idea in one simple sentence. This is the heart of your message. You should be able to connect to current news and trends.

  7. Think about the purpose of your main point. This will make your message stronger and more meaningful.

By following these steps, you can establish brand credibility and authority through thought leadership content.

Remember, it’s not just about having knowledge; it’s about communicating that information with extreme clarity and in a way that inspires innovation and leads people.

5 Steps to Establish Yourself as a Thought Leader

The key to building a powerful thought leadership strategy is to understand your expertise, define your audience, choose the right medium, and possibly write a book.

woman sitting at her computer taking notes

Here are some tips to get started:

1. Clarify Your Area of Expertise

Know what you do, how you do it, and why you do it. This clarity helps you create more ideas and content that reflect your true expertise.

2. Define Your Audience

Understand who your audience is. Look at their background, interests, demographics, and psychographics. Know the problems they face and the stories they relate to. This knowledge helps you connect with them more effectively.

3. Find a Medium

Choose the best medium to share your thoughts. This could be social media platforms like LinkedIn, a blog, a book, or magazines. Each medium reaches different audiences in different ways.

4. Write a Book

Consider writing a book. It's a powerful way to gain authority in your field. Most industry leaders have a book that showcases their expertise and experience.

5. Keep Learning about Your Industry

Staying updated in your industry is vital for thought leadership. Select a few key information sources like books, magazines, and websites, and use them to stay up-to-date easily.

A Holistic Strategy

A good strategy combines many elements. It's not just about having a LinkedIn profile, sharing posts, or an idea or more. It’s about creating content that resonates with your audience and showcases your credibility. This approach can help position you as a leader in your field.

Boost Your Industry Presence to Enhance Your Credibility

Boosting your presence in your industry is key to enhancing your credibility and augmenting your thought leadership.

Zoom meeting on a laptop

Here are some concrete strategies you can follow:

  1. Engage on Social Media: Use social media platforms to share your knowledge and insights. Regularly post content that is relevant to your industry. This not only shows that you are up-to-date but also helps in reaching a wider audience.

  2. Write Articles or Blogs: Create articles or blog posts about your field. Share your unique insights or offer unique guidance on current trends. This establishes you as a knowledgeable source in your industry.

  3. Network at Industry Events: Attend conferences, seminars, or webinars. Networking with other professionals can boost your visibility and reputation.

  4. Collaborate with Others: Partner with other professionals or co-founders in your industry for joint projects or discussions. Collaboration shows your ability to work with others and enhances your profile.

  5. Offer Workshops or Webinars: Sharing your knowledge through workshops or webinars is a great way to establish authority. It provides an opportunity to connect directly with your audience and share valuable insights.

Get Help on Your Thought Leadership Journey

Becoming a thought leader is a journey where your credibility combines with your unique insights to make a real impact.

Whether you're a co-founder, part of an organization, or an individual aiming to influence your field, the path to thought leadership requires you to:

  1. find good ideas;
  2. write them compellingly;
  3. and share them in a way that connects with your audience.

By following the strategies and principles outlined in this guide, you can step into the role of a thought leader, fostering innovation and inspiring change.

That said, because thought leadership comes with a high ROI, many aspiring thought leaders choose to get personalized help on their journey.

At Trivium Writing, we've been working with thought leaders and aspiring thought leaders alike to craft content strategies, write books, and build audiences.

If you are interested in working with us, here are three ways we can help you:


Leandre Larouche

Article by Leandre Larouche

Leandre Larouche is a writer, coach, and the founder of Trivium Writing.