In recent years, the term thought leader has become a buzzword signifying a status symbol that can be boasted to one's peers. Type in "How to become a thought leader" on Google and you will find several ways to "hack" your way into this highly regarded club.
However, I want to set things straight. Becoming a 'Thought Leader' isn't just a fancy title you can use to update your LinkedIn profile to catch clients.
It's more than that. It is a process and journey that requires deliberate practice on an ongoing basis to keep up with changing trends in your field.
Challenge yourself to become a well-respected thought leader
1. Understand the Responsibilities
When I first became a columnist for Inc. one of my good friends congratulated me but with the admonishment, "People are now dependent on you for information. You have a fiduciary duty to deliver the best content possible."
Similar to running a business. Your readership is your client. Your allegiance is with them at all times. Meaning, you are their eyes and ears and you are there to serve them.
2. Write a Book
To become an expert in your domain, you need time to master and refine your expertise. Sure, writing a book is a great opportunity to brand oneself and make some side money, that's obvious, but don't write a book for vanity reasons.
Recently, in order to finish my book, I re-read all my lectures, seminars, and notes. I had to go through almost 250,000 words of written work multiple times to trim it down to a 74,000-word book.
Writing a book is a challenging process and if done right, each page would feel like that physics finals exam you took in college. Use the book writing opportunity to master your craft.
3. Get Feedback
Good writing takes time and if you can't write, your work won't be published, which will make it much more difficult to become a thought leader.
As my good friend, author Jeff Kreisler, who recently coauthored a book, Dollars & Sense, with 3 time New York Times best-selling Author Dan Ariely told me "Practice, practice, and practice. Nowadays there are so many outlets you can publish your work to get good practice. Don't wait for a Forbes or an Inc. Magazine to recognize you. Be proactive"
Similarly, as I was writing my book, I had a list of 30 professionals who would fill out anonymous surveys after each chapter. The anonymous yet truthful feedback that I received was tremendously helpful to refine my thoughts.
4. Build a Team of Experts
As a thought leader, you need to build a team of experts who are in the "know" in terms of the latest and greatest in your field. Recently I decided to become a mentor at my school, the University of Chicago.
The goal was to access more intellectual giants such as professors Richard Thaler and Eugeme Fama who have received Nobel prizes in my field of interest. Furthermore, by reading journals and meeting with influencers in your industry, you will have access to the newest and latest trends. Build your network of experts you can count on for advice.
5. Practice Incessantly
For more than 15 years, I wrote journals in first person, second person, and third person. In order to truly understand my business partners and clients, I would write as if I were them. This unique writing strategy allowed me to not only better put myself in other's shoes but drastically improved my writing while helping me find my own unique voice.
You need to have original content told in your original voice. If not, you will never be able to stand out amongst the sea of 'thought leaders' in your field.
Personally, I would not consider myself as a thought leader because I believe this is a lifestyle decision that requires ongoing mastery.
There are no shortcuts. Build lasting habits that will help you become a thought leader for your entire career. If you understand this one thing, you are already halfway there.