The term thought leader has been around for over a hundred years. It was first used to describe Henry Ward Beecher, but has you heard on this episode of the podcast, it’s been taking a few lumps in recent years. In spite of some vocal naysayers there are plenty of people who are out there defending and advocating the idea of thought leadership and thought leadership strategies
In Episode 60 of The Platform Giant Show, we met one of those defenders, JD Gershbein. A strong advocate for using LinkedIn to build and promote your personal brand, JD also is a big believer in the idea of thought leadership as a means of differentiation.
On this episode of the Platform Giant Show I talk to JD Gershbein about how he’s using thought leadership strategies and how you can get started today being a thought leader.
Establishing Thought Leadership Strategies Online
Your network may have connections to other resources where you can establish thought leadership. JD believes publishing on other platforms such as the Huffington Post is a great place to start establishing influence outside of social media circles.
Before publishing other places, research where you want to publish and read the publication’s guidelines for submitting your work. What you publish doesn’t necessarily need to demonstrate thought leadership, you may just be expressing an opinion. The important thing is that you’re getting your work out there and it has your image with a byline.
Once you’ve established yourself on a given platform, it’s ok to shift your focus a little. JD’s first posts with the Huffington Post were about LinkedIn and thought leadership. Over time his focus has shifted to online behavior and the human condition as it’s evolving online.
Just as what you write about may change over time, so might the channel you use to convey your message. The use of video embedded within content is one place JD sees big opportunities. He thinks people haven’t fully exploited the power of video when it comes to branding and we are likely to see more video coming as people learn to leverage it.
Thought leadership is built by going out and telling your story, but you don’t have to do it all yourself. You need to get your thoughts out of your head and out of your computer and give them to online publications so they can help you tell your story and build your brand.
“…that’s how you build thought leadership: organically, incrementally, bit by bit, day by day, hour by hour…” ~JD Gershbein
Establishing Thought Leadership Strategies IRL (In Real Life)
Public Speaking plays a big part JD’s thought leadership strategies. He says it’s very important the audience is able to merge the story you’re telling online and with the experience of the story you’re telling them in person.
We’re seeing more people doing this. They’re using a speaker/author/coach business model. These people are value creators. They have books and online courses they’re selling and they need to be on stage so people know what they have to sell. It’s not easy but the there are many, many conferences and events; idea commerce, professional development and training are huge right now.
Even if you don’t want to be a speaker, go to these events, you can still share your ideas, your story and your brand with others there.
How Online Behavior is Changing
People are becoming more transparent online but that doesn’t mean we should disclose everything online. It’s a good idea to think about what we want to say online . We need to consider how we want to say something before we put it out there.
Having said that, people are more willing to say what they’re really thinking now, whether that’s complaining about how a particular site works or someone making an inappropriate comment, people are getting more comfortable with sharing their thoughts. However, there’s still “politically correct” behavior out there. People don’t want to ruin what they’ve created online. As JD words it, they don’t want to ”step in it”.
There’s also an increasing concern relating to privacy and security online. People who are going to be on these platforms need to realize it’s a “risk/reward” proposition. There may be consequences for taking an aggressive or unpopular position something. You don’t want to be a controversial thought leader; that’s not using thought leadership strategies. You want to lead people toward positive patterns, habits and displays. As a thought leader you need to help people conform their behavior to the platform and not ruffle feathers.
What it means to be a thought leader
You will be teaching people
You will be leading by example
You will inspire people
You will have fun with your topic
You must always adapt to what the audience needs. Sometimes you may be funny, or offbeat or quirky. Those are good things when you’re a thought leader because you need to be yourself and get people excited about what they’re doing.
That’s the essence of personal brand strategy: making yourself different, using and absorbing the ideas and wisdom of others and incorporating it into your own schema. That means there will be people you follow and listen to, but in the end you have to take what they’re talking about and make it your own.
JD says that’s one of his thought leadership strategies; he tunes in to what’s going on around him, he listens, he adopts and fits differing ideas, paradigms and strategies into his own life. He makes them his own and puts himself out there without fear of repercussion. He knows that if he does this in a thoughtful, intelligent way, he will help people and move them forward. He says,
“If I can bring them to new thought and new realization, new observations and new opportunities just by what I’m doing that makes me feel good”
How to Get Started as a Thought Leader
There are several different thought leadership strategies but step one is to keep thinking. After that, there is no set course to chart. Becoming a thought leader lends itself to the journey metaphor. We’re on this journey for our whole life and the Internet integrates so seamlessly into it. It’s become this portal into our lives and what we put out there.
How we are designing ourselves by our online presence is what people are going to see and they’ll have their own opinions about it. That’s why you can’t call yourself a thought leader, it’s an earned title.
JD’s journey to thought leadership didn’t happen by him declaring himself as the thought leader. He was just moving through the journey of his life and people started to thank him for his leadership in his field. He started realizing that the amount of positive feedback was a sign he was on the right track. He took that feedback as validation to keep doing what he was doing. He integrated it into his world view. It gave him more confidence and business self esteem to talk about his world view.
When can you refer to yourself as a thought leader?
“ Once you you hear from the people who know like and trust you that you have helped them and that you are a true leader in your field, then you can start talking about yourself in those terms.”
JD admits it always sounds better when it’s in your bio or on your profile in the third person. You will never hear him refer to himself as a thought leader, but he’ll never correct you if you call him that.
How to Become A Thought Leader
- It starts with writing. Write, write, write, write, write
- Be a guest or host a podcast. You need to relish it and market it. It’s your leadership story preserved.
- Write books.
- Having creative outlets.
- Go to networking events
“Leadership and Thought leadership are separated by a fine line” ~JD Gershbein
Leading by action or thought requires some of the same principles. A highly principled leader who is very well versed in guiding leading and inspiring others has the ability to do that intellectually as well.