5 Traits of a True Thought Leader

by Dillon Kivo
Republished from Inc, July 19, 2018

What comes to mind when you think of your favorite thought leaders? Is it TED Talks, keynote presentations, big stages, book tours or even YouTube channels and Instagram profiles? Thought leaders come in all shapes and sizes. A thought leader can be an individual or a company that is recognized as an authority in a specific industry or on a particular topic. In other words, thought leaders are in a unique position to make an impact in their field or area of expertise because they have a following ready to listen.

In today’s digital landscape, we’re not short of opinions and inspiring thoughts, and yet just because you share your opinions online doesn’t make you a great thought leader.

We’ve talked with several thought leaders and experts in their respective fields and determined that a great thought leader boils down to five key traits:

They Are Visionaries

Thought leaders are well-aware of everything happening in their industry right now. While a visionary may have a good idea of where they are headed or what the biggest questions of the community may be, a great visionary and thought leader doesn’t limit themselves to the confines of their own ideas. Instead, they share their expectations upfront and then encourage creativity.

Great thought leaders look out for more than just their own best interest. They look out for the interest of an entire group by working to solve problems and exploring new and different ideas.

They Have Courage

True thought leaders don’t let the fear of failure stop them from innovating and experimenting, and they must often make important but unpopular decisions believing it will benefit everyone involved. This takes courage. New ideas are often hard for everyone to understand and may face resistance, but true thought leaders are confident in their vision and embrace opportunities for discussion.

However, with that said, they are also brave enough to admit when they’ve made a mistake. The world changes quickly, and it takes a lot of courage to stand up and say, “I was wrong.” Great thought leaders are transparent about their journey, sharing the victories and the defeats. That’s what makes them human, after all.

They Are Excellent Communicators

Thought leaders are both great speakers and great listeners. You can’t inspire someone if you don’t understand where they’re coming from, what issues they face and what their hopes are for the future. Great communicators know how to listen and acknowledge others’ great ideas while sharing their own and bridging gaps. After all, people can only be inspired if they first and foremost understand your vision and how it will impact them in their own lives and with their own issues — which is why excellent communicators also know where to find their audience and communicate with them on the platforms they’re using.

So as thought leaders, constantly find opportunities to be seen as an expert and to talk to the media. Create downloadable content, apply for awards, document your ideas in a SlideShare or start a series of webinars with GoToWebinar and host and share them across your various platforms and social pages.

They Are Passionate and Command Attention

Thought leaders understand how to make passionate arguments in support of their vision — and to a specific audience — because they believe in their ideas so deeply. To be passionate about something means taking the time to dissect it into easy to understand pieces, and then explain them simply. At the end of the day, it allows people to see how your ideas are relevant to other people and how they might take on new shapes. That’s the real measure of thought leadership.

In short, great thought leaders command an audience’s attention by speaking simply and passionately. This often means avoiding industry acronyms and jargon that isn’t widely known or understood.

They Are Action-Oriented

Lastly, thought leaders know how to take an idea and put it into action. In this way, they are doing more than sharing thoughts. They are making changes.

People are smart. They know a phony when they see one. Speakers can inspire their audiences, but true thought leaders inspire change in others and actively make changes themselves because they are actively in front of their cause.

They are passionate about issues because they have firsthand experience and they have been brave enough to speak up and share their ideas in a way that their specific industry or audience understands. Because of this, they naturally command attention. True thought leaders aren’t just visionaries, excellent communicators, courageous, passionate or driven to act. They must be all of the above to truly be recognized as an authority and inspire (and make) real changes.

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