Thought Leader or Expert? You Decide!

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about lately…what’s the difference between someone who is an expert in their field and someone who is a well-known expert? And what about someone who is a well-known expert in their field vs. someone who is a well-respected thought leader? Often the terms expert and thought leader are used synonymously, but actually, I believe that while expertise is a pre-requisite for thought leadership, being an expert is not in itself sufficient for someone to be a thought leader. There are a few other key pieces that have to be in place.

Be Discoverable:

When someone is looking for an expert in your arena, will they find you? Likely, they will check Google, LinkedIn and maybe Klout scanning for keywords that indicate the expertise they are looking for. They might also check out the top finalists for recent industry awards; look at the list of speakers for the recent industry conference or scan the most recent issue of the local trade magazine. You need a high discoverability quotient.

What can you do to be discoverable by those who need your expertise? 

Be Top of Mind: 

One accounting firm in San Francisco tracked the source of business they completed over a year and discovered that every piece of business – from existing clients or new clients – could be traced back to a contact between that client and someone in the firm in the 10 days prior to the accounting engagement. This might have been a client running into a partner at a golf game, cocktail event or industry function; a client attending a program where someone from the firm was speaking; or the client reading about the firm in the paper or seeing an ad they placed. It could also be one of the firm’s employee calling on the existing client to check in. It wasn’t really important which form the contact took – what was key was how recent it had been. Only when you are top of mind will your expertise pay off.

What are you doing to stay top of mind this year?

Be Reference-able: 

Another way that we find (and differentiate) experts is through word of mouth – I ask my business colleagues and acquaintances who they know who would fit my needs. Likely, they will refer me to whoever is top of mind with them – someone THEY saw speak at a recent industry conference, read about in the paper, or ran into at a cocktail party last week. But you are far more likely to get excited if that referral is supplemented by a comment like: “she does amazing work” or “he has such great ideas”? It’s not enough for them to say, “yes, I know of him or her,” you need a far more enthusiastic endorsement. Likely those type of positive endorsements only come when you’ve  done some work that’s above and beyond the norm — and that people know it. A wider network and a wider variety of referece-able sources who know about you and your work is key. This isn’t just for those looking to get hired for their expertise – the same process takes place when someone is seeking a board member, speaker, guest blogger or someone to serve on an important committee or commission.

What will you do to assure you are gaining enthusiastic endorsements from those around you?

Be in Touch:

A few years ago, I heard a well-respected consultant tell an audience that he thinks of himself as a ‘concierge’. Every morning when he gets to his desk, he spends 15-30 minutes sending out emails to a number of people in his network providing them with information, resources or news that is of value to them. He might forward a recent article to a CEO in his network, summarize some thoughts on career growth strategies for one of his proteges, or alert five business acquaintances to an upcoming event he was attending and invite them to join him. He realized that these 15-30 minutes kept him in touch with people far and wide that he wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to connect with. Another CEO I know sets aside 2 hours every Friday afternoon to call people around the world that he respects, just to check in. No agenda, just a ‘how are you doing,’ call. Yes, he is busy, but these calls allow him to expand his thinking, test new ideas and stay in touch with people he cares about.

What can you do to be in better touch with people in your network this year?

Be Follow-able

One last piece to this equation – the one that tends to differentiate the well-known experts from the thought leaders – is whether or not you have a following – people who look to you for new ideas and seek out your ideas on the issues of the day. This requires that you regularly share not just your expertise but your vision of the future, your lessons learned and your reflections on the direction of your industry or wider political, economic or social trends.

To build these followers will require a platform and a megaphone to get the word out. This might include a blog, book, well-honed speech or a regular guest-column on a popular site. Alternatively, you could write OpEds, convene others in your industry or join a prestigious industry association board. No matter which option you choose, it requires that you take the time to hone your thinking and reflect, read widely and stay up to date on the key trends, and most important to trust that your ideas are valuable and worth sharing. We don’t change the world by sitting quietly on the sidelines.

What will you do to build a following this year? 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *