Becoming a thought leader in your field of expertise does not come quickly and requires continual action to maintain. A thought leader is willing and able to step into the spotlight and voice a new and innovative point of view. He is not afraid of controversy or exploring unconventional solutions for traditional problems. The title of thought leader is only given to those who share insights with the community and inspire others to take new approaches, to face their fears and solve the big problems of the day.
Innovate Don’t Follow
Innovation is the number-one deterrent to becoming a thought leader. If you are an expert in your field and excel at doing things the same way they have always been done, it can be hard to get outside of the box and do something innovative. Start looking at the fringe areas causing problems in your field. For example, in the legal field intellectual property lawyers this could be looking at new ways to handle digital copyright infringement. An accident injury lawyer could look for ways to utilize the data from traffic cameras to determine if the light change system is a safety hazard. A child custody lawyer could subpoena social networking records to ascertain the fitness of one party over the other.
Do Something Other Say Can’t Be Done
Take a shot at creating a new approach to an old problem. Look at what it did for Nate Silver. Political parties and traditional polling companies were all outperformed by Silver during the 2008 elections. Mr. Silver correctly picked the winner of 49 of 50 states and all 32 Senate races using a system he had devised. These results were so much more accurate than the other professionals that he instantly changed the culture of election prediction. He was not afraid to go outside the traditional statistics comfort zone. He is currently a semi-pro poker player (a statistics heavy game) and is the manager of his website fivethirtyeight.com, which has moved from a New York Times property to an ESPN property.
Go Above and Beyond Those Who Came Before You
Silver is just one of the innovative leaders who have gone outside the box. Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett started a unique society for billionaires called “The Giving Pledge.” While they were already well known thought leaders in their community, the Giving Pledge has taken it to the next level. They recruit other extremely wealthy people to promise to donate at least half of their assets to charity in their wills. This is a major culture shift from the hoarding done by old money families of the past.
The lessons here are very clear. Becoming a thought leader and maintaining that level of influence require continuous engagement. You cannot simply sit on your laurels and remain an influence in the community.