I don't know that I am a thought leader. But I was called one about eight months ago. It is not something I was working on - it just kind of happened. It is not something I am going to brag about in books or put behind my name in every conference presentation. I think that the "status: kind of just developed over time. But my insight may help you to see how to get your thoughts noticed.
If you were to talk to my close friends and family, they would probably tell you that I am "argumentative". Of course, I've never seen it that way, and what do they know right? But I do tend to look at conversations and situations from a jaded point of view. Or at least from a point of view that most people do not approach. When people say that "A B C are facts" I'll tend to challenge them and make the conversation go deeper. When I go to conference after conference and I see experts on stage all saying the same thing about a topic, I tend to start investigating the topic on my own time and see how much of what they say is fact and how much is self-aggrandizing speaker hot air. (I hope other speakers and conference attendees do that about what I say. I might be lying!)
About a year ago I was having drinks with a very smart gentleman named Corey Perlman who is a brilliant social media speaker.
We are both members of the National Speakers Association and were both at the same annual conference. (Sidebar: You should look at joining the NSA. There is no better place to network with successful speakers). He said something to me that I'll never forget:
“Patrick - I love the stuff you post online. You are such a contrarian.”
"Wow" I thought. Corey is a pretty popular guy in his field so to get a compliment from him felt pretty good. Plus, we were a bunch of professional speakers out having drinks and the truth usually comes out when we've had a few. Fast forward to eight months ago. I was approached by one of the editors of Speaker Magazine (the official magazine of the National Speakers Association) who wanted me to write a featured article for one of the sections. Part of the email that encouraged me to write said: “A fellow NSA member, and friend of yours, recommended you as a thought leader on social media and marketing, if that helps sway your opinion one way or another.”
I've got an ego just like everybody else - of course this is going to sway me. That phrase had never been used on me before and it felt great. Since that initial email the phrase has been used several more times about me - publicly and privately. I run a private Facebook group that helps speakers market themselves better in the world. I've received constant praise for my work in that group. I didn't think I was doing anything special; I'm just helping out a bunch of speakers in a quiet, spam-free environment. And that brings to me how I think YOU can become a thought leader also.
Here are the behaviors that I believe caused someone to call me a "thought leader" status:
Having a Voice - This is the most important step. Too many people in this world "talk about talking". And few ... very few ... actually stand up and voice their opinion on a topic. Most people would rather keep their heads down and blend in. Life is safe when you just keep ducking and keep your mouth shut. However, if you want to be recognized for your opinion or your accomplishments, you cannot be shy with your voice. When your become a blogger, a speaker, a teacher, or a television personality you are going to have to get past your shyness and get on a platform.
Being a contrarian - If you ever hear something in a conversation that sounds stupid or read something on the internet and think "well that just sounds stupid" THEN SAY SO (even if it comes from me). Be tactful about it but jump on it if it just does not seem right and share your opinion about it. There will be at least one person who will agree with you. But they don't have the courage to say it. So, when you do voice your contrarian opinion you are likely speaking for several people. (This is the reason that it has always annoyed me that Facebook only gives you a LIKE button and not a DISLIKE button.)Don't be afraid to call experts out - This is kind of like being a contrarian, but with the addition of addressing specific people that you do not agree with. When several popular experts tend to have the same opinion about a topic, it is time for someone to look at the other side. And if you don't agree with what an expert says, feel free to call them out on their opinion via video, blogging or social media (or even in person if you get the chance). We tend to believe anybody that stands on stage and speaks. There is a dangerous trend in the world of speakers/experts. They tend to repeat each other. I'll take social media as an example. All you have to do is go to about two social media conferences and you would likely hear everything you'd hear at a future conference. Experts (of which I like to think I am one) tend to parrot each other. They/We will go to conference, see someone say something that appears insightful, and then repeat it to our tribe. This can be dangerous if the original source of the information didn't have their facts straight.
I'd like to wrap this up with a great quote I heard recently.
“You don't have to be best in the world. You just have to be the best in THEIR (i.e. Your audience) world.”
Being a thought leader means being the best you can be for YOUR tribe. If you follow my guidelines above will be on the right path. Have you ever been called a thought leader?