What even is a thought leader? A personal branding expert explains

Are you tired of the hustle and pressure to be authentic, build your personal brand, become an influencer or thought leader?

Well, join the queue of others who are weary. After all, it’s exhausting trying to navigate the relentless brouhaha of brand image,

These overused and misused phrases cause much stress, confusion and self-doubt. They also lead many down deep rabbit holes of dodgy marketing and LinkedIn activities in the quest for success. 

I encourage creative and courageous marketing. But illusionary benchmarks need unpacking and the pressure valve released.  

I will focus here on the issue around thought leadership. Before I dive in, please know that influence is not necessarily the same as being an influencer. 

Every day, we influence other people in some way shape or form. And publishing content on social media does not automatically equate to being an influencer either.

Not everyone can be, or wants to be a thought leader, high-profile influencer or media personality. And that’s perfectly ok. 

Building visibility and credibility as a subject matter expert or seller in your sector is key. But the populist notion that being a thought leader is the only holy grail of success and value is absolute balderdash and totally incorrect.  

What really is thought leadership?

There is so much confusion as leadership is different to thought leadership. Just because you have and share your thoughts doesn’t equate to being a thought leader. My definition is:

  • A thought leader is different to a leader (but not always mutually exclusive). 
  • Thought leadership is being truly innovative. It can also disrupt a market.
  • Thought leaders develop and create unique solutions, ideas and concepts for significant impact and change.

Truth is there are few really genuine thought leaders. However, there are many outstanding leaders and inspiring communicators in small business across all sectors. 

How a message or concept is delivered can motivate inspiration and change. But that doesn’t mean the message or person is a thought leader either. The way you deliver via your personality and style is just your unique value. 

And never bestow the title of thought leadership on your LinkedIn or website. Doing so sounds pompous and disconnected. Let others confer and promote you in that context if relevant.

If the title is genuinely befitting, use clever and creative ways to communicate with stories and proof to engage.

Positioning and growing the visibility of your expertise on social media is not exclusive to, or part of thought leadership. You can be an outstanding expert on a topic/s and be a powerful communicator.

There is no shame by the way in being a valued expert versus a groundbreaking disrupter and new instigator. Everyone has value.

Part of the hoopla is the promotion that a huge social media following translates to thought leadership. Untrue! 

Be very wary of those who promote thought leadership as part of their LinkedIn and wheelhouse of tricks and hacks on the road to success.

Everyone has value

Hold your nerve and don’t get swayed by the social media push and noise to be something you are not in the grind hustle culture.  

Everyone has value and rhetoric must always meet reality. Say what you mean and do what you say. Keep learning and supporting others as that is the benchmark of success, whether you are a leader, expert or a true thought leader.  

This story first appeared on sister site Inside Small Business and has been republished with permission.

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