Love it or hate it, thought leadership is one of those buzzy terms that isn’t going away anytime soon. The reason: Thought leaders—no matter the industry—continue to add something new and interesting to the conversation, whether it’s a fresh perspective on an old way of looking at things or an innovative way to solve a common.
Despite the term being overused (and sometimes misused) becoming a thought leader still has some big benefits in 2020: It helps you build your brand, establish yourself as a credible expert in your industry, help thousands (or even millions) of people, and enjoy bigger and better opportunities to spread your message. Keep reading to learn what thought leadership really means in 2020, plus how online courses can help you achieve—and maintain—thought leader status.
What is a thought leader?
In a nutshell, “a thought leader is someone who has a depth of experience in a particular area,” says Selena Soo, an online entrepreneur and publicity and marketing strategist who helps people gain thought leadership status. “They have a combination of lived experience and specific knowledge that they teach to others.” Most thought leaders have overcome obstacles and transformed their lives or their businesses in a way that inspires others to do the same.
“They organize vast amounts of information into a framework that’s simple for people to learn,” says online entrepreneur Regina Anaejionu, founder of beta & beyond and author of the book Epic Blog. “When done well, thought leaders provide content that others can easily apply to their lives. If you’re not helping people achieve goals, that’s not thought leadership; that’s noise, and you don't want to just create more noise online.”
The Value of Thought Leadership
Being a thought leader means you’re known as a go-to expert in your field. And when that happens, “you attract more attention and opportunities,” says Soo. “You’ll be considered for things like writing a book, speaking at events, and being interviewed on TV shows and podcasts.” All of these opportunities are great ways for you to spread your message and impact more people.
For Anaejionu, being a thought leader has a lot of personal value, too. “You get to earn an income by researching and talking about topics that fascinate you anyway,” she says. “A person who can do that—no matter the industry—will never be without a job or a business of their own.”
Soo notes that becoming a thought leader has been incredibly gratifying. “It’s so rewarding when I get an email from someone thanking me for sharing my strategies and changing their life,” she says. “It’s amazing to know that my courses have directly transformed thousands of lives and indirectly impacted millions in the process.”
She credits her success to another thought leader who later became her mentor: Ramit Sethi, personal finance guru and author of the bestseller, I Will Teach You to Be Rich. “His programs helped me figure out how to organize my knowledge and launch an online business,” says Soo. “Today, I have a seven-figure business because of him.”
At the end of the day, thought leaders are role models. “People don’t just want information—they want someone they can learn from and be inspired by,” says Soo. “Thought leaders embody a message of hope and possibility and inspire others to step into a better version of themselves.”
How to Achieve—and Maintain—Thought Leader Status
Becoming a thought leader doesn’t happen overnight. It can take years to establish yourself as an expert in your field and gain followers. That said, you can fast track your success by consistently putting out content (whether it’s blog posts, emails, or podcasts) that’s useful to your audience. “Make sure your lessons and strategies are applicable to others,” advises Soo. “You need to have real depth and a unique perspective on whatever area you’re talking about.”
It’s also important to convey your message in a way that’s memorable. That way, you'll become an integral part of people's lives—they’ll keep coming back to hear what you have to say. “When you look at big thought leaders like Deepak Chopra, they have a message that’s spreadable,” explains Soo. “People share his quotes on Facebook and Instagram all the time because they’re relatable and helpful.” In other words, your goal should be to create content that’s easily consumable and shareable.
When it comes to maintaining thought leader status, the key is to keep putting your message into the world so you can gain a bigger and bigger following. To expand your reach, find new ways to broadcast your message, suggests Soo. For example, if you normally write articles and blog posts, try creating videos or a podcast (and vice versa). Any platform where you can build a community is a good place to expand your reach.
How Online Courses Can Help You Become a Thought Leader
Creating online courses is a great way to build thought leadership status in your area of expertise. Courses take your material out of the realm of “just talk” and into the world of real action—and results. “They’re a tangible way to teach people and create massive value,” says Anaejionu. “They increase your ability to make a big impact.”
Soo agrees: “They help you disseminate ideas to people who want to go deep with you,” she says. “It’s so powerful when people take your ideas and use them in their real life.” And the more people get results from your programs, the more likely they are to tell their friends and colleagues (read: you’ll be on your way to becoming a thought leader).
The bottom line? Having an inspiring message is important but it isn’t everything. “Quotes can’t change lives but courses can,” notes Soo.