It's easy to call yourself a thought leader, but you don't qualify for a title like that until you've earned it. Thought leaders are, of course, industry experts and gurus in their fields, but they're also gifted at dispensing advice and using their stature to make profits for any company they're connected with. They're the go-to resource in the industry, and the greats ones are known to the masses (think Bill Gates and Steve Jobs).
A thought leader isn't created overnight--it usually takes several years of experience, skill building, and networking. However, there are a few signs that you might be a thought leader in the making. If you find yourself exhibiting several of these symptoms, maybe you should focus on what makes a great thought leader and then start blazing your own trail. After all, "guru" and "thought leader" certainly have nice rings to them.
1. You have an active social media following on your business pages.
If you're active on LinkedIn or have a thriving professional Facebook or Twitter account, you're already on the right track. Start advancing even more by contributing guest blogs to reputable online outlets, participating more in LinkedIn discussions, and generally fostering your social media professional life.
2. You're constantly improving your business skill sets.
You attend all the best conferences, are always seeking out new learning opportunities that relate to your industry, and believe that there's no such thing as "enough." This is a sign that you're truly passionate about your work and your personal growth, both of which are pillars for thought leadership. This means it's a joy and a journey for you, not a job and a chore.
3. You're great at networking and speaking engagements.
These two skills are both an innate talent and a learned skill--if you're not a natural, don't worry. There are many ways to get better, including classes or groups like Toastmasters. Practice makes perfect, so get out there and find avenues for networking and speaking to groups. The more you do it, the better you'll be.
4. Googling yourself turns up positive results.
Don't be embarrassed: Go ahead, and Google yourself. It's what other people--including potential new employers, partners, or clients--are doing. Set up a Google Alert for your name, and make sure to have any negative content removed or "buried" under more relevant and positive notes. For example, you might have an ancient MySpace account full of spring break photos you've forgotten about or an angst-ridden teen tirade on a review site that slipped your mind. Make sure you know where your online reputation stands.
5. You're truly passionate about your work.
Thought leaders are never passive about their work or think of it as "just a job." They become thought leaders because they truly care about what they do--if you don't, it's time to reassess what you want. If you're happy enough in a career that's not a perfect match and don't want to be a thought leader, that's fine. However, if you want more, it's never too late to try a new path or job.
Is thought leadership in your future? Only time will tell--and a few signs that you don't want to ignore.