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4 steps to set yourself up as a thought leader in any field

Double bullseye on dartboard

At a glance:

  • Understanding why you want to be a thought leader helps define your path to becoming one. Take time to think through your reasons.
  • Networking gives you a chance to learn how your knowledge and abilities could potentially benefit others or fill a gap in your subject area.
  • Storytelling is an effective method for positioning yourself as the thought leader you want to be.
  • Give yourself the right foundation for your next career move with a business degree from University of Phoenix, which offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs.

“Continuous learning leads to continuous improvement. Commit yourself to advancing your knowledge, skills and expertise. … Be a lifelong student.”

This quote by Pamela Gill Alabaster highlights a key trait of current and aspiring experts: always be learning.

Alabaster knows what she’s talking about. As a business executive with over 25 years of experience, she’s worked for many top companies.

If you’re reading this, let’s assume two things. One, you’re at least curious about the steps to becoming a thought leader in your desired field. And two, you need some suggestions for how to build the necessary knowledge and expertise.

As you’ll see, it is possible to set yourself up as a thought leader in your field. Along the way, you’ll have a chance to gather and practice the right skills and even enjoy the journey.

Let’s dive in.

Start your business career on the right foot. Explore business degrees at University of Phoenix! 

1. Understand why you want to be a thought leader

First, you need to consider why you want to be a thought leader. What are your specific goals in gaining expertise in your field? Are you willing to invest in the practice it takes to perfect your craft?

Here are some things to think about:

  • Do you want to enhance your career?
  • Do you have a passion for your industry and want to learn all you can?
  • Do you hope to acquire a certain knowledge base to meet your career goals?

Answering these questions as part of your overall “why” will help you chart a more straightforward path.

2. Get your 10,000 hours

You’ve likely heard that it takes this many hours of practice to become an expert in anything. Malcolm Gladwell popularized the concept in his best-selling book Outliers: The Story of Success.

How long does it take to reach 10,000 hours in anything? Well, it largely depends on how long you’re able to dedicate to learning about and practicing the task.

Maybe you have a lot of time to dedicate to your development. If so, you might be able to get your necessary hours of practice in after 2½ years. Alternatively, maybe you have less time. That’s OK. The idea is to commit yourself to regular learning or practice.

Is 10,000 hours a hard and fast rule? No. Think of it as more of a guideline as you begin gathering knowledge, building your skill set and practicing what’s important.

Keep in mind that your industry does matter. Some roles require more investment of time and education than others to develop and strengthen your abilities. But virtually everyone can benefit from mentorship. It’s important to find veteran professionals in your industry who can share their knowledge and answer your questions — even the ones you don’t know to ask. Meeting regularly, and possibly even shadowing them for a time to see how things are done, enables you to pick up the nuances and skills of a specific field that are not found in textbooks.

Next, create your own opportunities. I’m in the communications industry today because of the side businesses and projects I started. I put more than 10 years of practice into learning a new industry. Don’t be afraid to do the same. Whether it’s your own business, a volunteer role or a new class, your personal time can be the currency for acquiring the specific skills and experience required to get you closer to meeting your goals.

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3. Be a master networker

The notion that success is about who you know — and who knows you — borders on cliché for a reason. Networking is the lifeblood of your career

When we connect with people, we get to learn about their goals and aspirations. They, in turn, often want to know about ours.

Whether in person or online, networking gives you the chance to discuss and showcase your expertise. Maybe someone has a question only you can answer. Or, if you don’t have the answer, maybe you know someone who does. At that point, you become a connector, which is another way to gain attention and become a valuable resource for others. Then, when the time comes that you need a favor — like an interview for a new position — you’ll have a wide network of people to reach out to.

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4. Leverage storytelling

OK, so you’re on your way to 10,000 hours, and you’re networking like crazy. You’re achieving expert status, but how do you differentiate yourself from the other thought leaders in your field?

By telling stories. That’s right — stories.

Think about the most impactful people you know. Chances are, they know how to spin a great story to teach an important topic. It’s an important skill because human beings are wired for stories. It’s how we’ve communicated for millennia.

You can use that power, and display your expertise, by telling stories that resonate with others in your industry.

For instance, you could begin writing on social media, giving talks at conferences or even starting your own podcast. This will help set you apart and establish you as a thought leader.

The key, however, is to do it well. You have to be able to:

  • Make complex data easy to understand
  • Talk about the trends that matter
  • Paint a picture for the future of your industry
  • Inspire others and enact meaningful change

Do all this, and storytelling becomes the vehicle for evangelizing your expertise. It’s what solidifies your reputation and expands your reach. Just make sure your message is ready.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of University of Phoenix. 


David Domzalski is an entrepreneur, copywriter and storyteller. He’s an effective communicator with a passion for helping people better their lives financially. His writing has been featured on multiple outlets including AOL, FanSided, Forbes, GOBankingRates, MSN, Nasdaq and Yahoo. He lives in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two children. Connect with him on his website and check out his Copywriting Storyteller newsletter.


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