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.