According to Wikipedia, a thought leader "is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded." I've interviewed dozens of thought leaders over the years and have observed they have these common strategies:
1. Be experienced rather than qualified.
Thought leaders bring new perspectives and ideas into existing areas of thought. Becoming qualified (like earning an advanced degree) ensures that you'll follow in the footsteps of giants rather than stand on their shoulders.
2. Be overconfident your ability to add value.
If you don't believe in yourself, nobody else will believe in you either. Thought leaders exude certainty that their ideas are useful and worthy of consideration. Those ideas may evolve, but the confidence remains unshaken.
3. Think differently from everyone else.
Warren Buffett famously said: "Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful." To become a thought leader, you must head in a direction that's different and maybe diametrically opposite to where the crowd is now headed.
4. Create a lot of content.
Thought leaders constant writing books, blogs, articles and emails. They seldom pass up opportunities to speak in public or be interviewed in the media. The last thing they'll do is try to rest on their laurels.
5. Appeal to both reason and emotion.
Thoughts are intellectual; leadership is emotional. Being a thought leader therefore isn't just about great ideas, it's about inspiring people to believe in those ideas and take their own personal actions to make them real.
6. Constantly transcend boundaries.
In any given area of business or life, there are invisible boundaries that limit how people see problems and define solutions. Thought leaders don't constrain their thinking to preconceived notions of what works and what's appropriate.
7. Cultivate followers who "get" it.
A thought leader is never a "voice in the wilderness." Quite the contrary, the moment you show true thought leadership, you'll start attracting followers. Use social media to keep them involved and informed.
8. Expect to be both loved and hated.
Thought leaders never inspire lukewarm emotions. People either LOVE them or HATE them. There's no in-between. The two examples that come to mind are Seth Godin and Tony Robbins. If everyone only LIKES you, you're not a thought leader.
9. Grow beyond your own leadership.
Innovation takes place so quickly that thought leaders can only remain leaders for a few years at most. When you've led everyone else to where you are now, it's time to find a new direction that's beyond the new boundaries your leadership has established.