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What is thought leadership in business?

At a glance

  • Thought leaders are experts in their fields to whom others turn for industry knowledge.
  • Thought leaders often establish credibility in their field by writing papers, articles or books as well as accepting speaking engagements.
  • Keeping up with news, trends and updates is an important aspect of maintaining expertise.
  • Learn about online business programs through University of Phoenix.

Thought leaders and discussions of thought leadership can be found in business journals, newspapers, social media posts and elsewhere on the internet. But what does it actually mean to be a thought leader?

A thought leader is an authority on a very specific area of knowledge. This person and their company are the go-to resources for information about that topic. Thought leadership is a goal for many business leaders, and it’s a concept that anyone studying business should understand.

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


What it means to be a thought leader

Thought leaders regularly share their expertise online and through journals, books and speaking engagements. In sharing their expertise, they increase business opportunities and they improve the reputation of their company within their specific fields. A thought leader develops a reputation as an expert in a field and capitalizes on that reputation. Some skills and traits of a thought leader are:

  • Public speaking: the ability to eloquently express viewpoints and expertise with large groups.
  • Critical thinking: the ability to interpret large amounts of information and come to sound conclusions.
  • Empathy and patience: traits that allow thought leaders to connect well with people and build relationships.
  • Decisiveness and confidence: characteristics that help thought leaders gain the trust of those who want to learn from them and work with them.

These skills and traits allow thought leaders to share their expertise and become go-to sources of information for other researchers, potential clients and even competitors.

The value of thought leadership for business

Thought leadership offers many benefits for a business in terms of marketing and reputation development. A thought leader’s written articles and speaking engagements can be turned into content for social media posts and other online marketing strategies. A thought leader’s reputation can help lead to more clients through word of mouth.

Thought leaders often discuss ideas and skills within their specialized areas of knowledge in a public setting. They don’t normally spend time talking directly about their business and the services or goods they’re selling. However, by establishing themselves as experts and trusted sources, they can potentially bring in more clients and sell more goods and services, albeit indirectly.

Examples of thought leadership strategy

Many thought leaders share their knowledge through articles and books or through public speaking engagements. Here are some examples of thought leadership strategies:

  • Keep it simple: Sometimes, thought leaders develop their reputations by providing simply stated, actionable information for their audiences. For example, if you’re trying to become a thought leader who is a go-to resource on networking and communication, you might write a series of articles outlining the steps people can take to expand their professional networks.
  • Change the narrative: Some thought leaders gain attention and awareness by advocating for changes within their industries. Thought leaders using this strategy are usually highly persuasive and passionate about such change. For example, a thought leader might be a guest on podcasts and talk shows to debate issues with other people in their industry or write reviews and opinion pieces in response to other leaders’ books and articles.
  • Tell a story: Humans connect deeply to storytelling, so many thought leaders share lessons and insights with their audiences through stories from their professional and personal lives. For example, a storytelling thought leader might write a memoir.

Every thought leader is different, but using one or more of the above thought leadership strategies can help you find an engaged audience and get your message out into the world.

How to become a thought leader

It’s one thing to understand thought leadership and its benefits. It’s another task altogether to actually become a thought leader. There are several strategies to establish yourself or your brand as a thought leader in any industry.

Establish your area of expertise

The first step to potentially become a thought leader is to establish your area of expertise. There’s great value in deciding on a subject matter or industry to specialize in when establishing your brand

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As mentioned, you need to choose a very specific area of expertise, one that is niche enough that you can begin to establish yourself as a leader in that smaller space. This will help your target audience to find you easily and connect with your thought leadership content.

Set aside your business agenda

As a thought leader, you need to hold tightly to your mission and values . It’s important to avoid profit motivation as you begin your journey to become a thought leader.

Your job as a thought leader is to address important issues within your industry. In doing so, you may see a greater increase in profit for your business, but that should not be the main focus of your speaking and writing. Providing valuable content as a subject matter expert must be your top priority.

Keep up with news and trends

What are other people in your industry saying? To become a thought leader, it’s necessary to keep up with the best sources for cutting-edge news and research in your industry.

By keeping up with news and trends, you can identify where your expertise can shine a spotlight on a current issue or topic. Staying up to date on advancements can also help you develop deeper connections with other leaders and find mentors within your industry and become a subject matter expert for others.

Learn from others

Part of becoming a thought leader and teaching other people is learning from other people. By communicating, networking and collaborating with other experts in your field, you can learn and grow as a thought leader.

If you begin reaching out to other experts and showing a willingness to learn from them, you can increase opportunities for collaborative projects, more publicity and an overall improvement of your skills.

Bolster your credentials

One way to establish yourself as a leader in your industry is to build up your credentials. This can include earning advanced degrees, such as a master’s degree in business administration or professional certificates and awards, to build authority for yourself or your company.

These credentials can strengthen your reputation and garner deeper trust from other professionals and potential clients.

Get your name out there

An important part of becoming a thought leader is to develop a positive reputation and gain credibility. You can become more visible to the public through a solid content marketing strategy. This can include:

  • Public speaking engagements
  • Conferences
  • Virtual events
  • Readings from your articles or book
  • Blog posts
  • Other forms of high-quality content

You can also reach out to popular and trustworthy publications for interviews and features. This will help make other people in your industry familiar with you and your work.

Whether you’re starting your journey to become a thought leader or you’re a business student, understanding how to achieve thought leadership may help you expand your own thinking and make a greater impact.

Earn a business degree from University of Phoenix

If you’re looking to learn more about more online business programs that prepare students with skills for a variety of career paths, consider a program at University of Phoenix.

Associate of Arts with a concentration in Business Fundamentals From management to accounting, skills learned in this program are essential for anyone looking to advance in their business education. 

Bachelor of Science in Business Knowledge of the ins and outs of running a business can spell the difference between success and failure in a competitive business world. 

Master of Business Administration Prepare for higher leadership roles in an organization. This degree program can prepare graduates for careers as business managers, operations directors and more.

Master of Management Take your understanding of business organization and management to an advanced level. This degree program is perfect for those with experience in the workforce who are looking to take on greater leadership roles. 

Doctor of Business Administration Expand your understanding of organizations, work environments and industry. This program invites participants to delve into cutting-edge research in the field of business and develop skills for solving complex organizational problems.


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