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50 Strategies for Becoming a Thought Leader in Your Field Experts in retail, medicine, data analysis, classical music and more share their insights on gaining public authority, and why it's worth your time.

By Yitzi Weiner

entrepreneur daily
via Authority Magazine

A "thought leader" is someone who is recognized as an authority in their particular field. Their expertise is sought out and often rewarded in many different ways. Thought leaders are asked to speak at public events and conferences, or hired as consultants to share their insights with a relevant audience.

So what are the specific benefits of being a thought leader? And how does one go about earning that moniker?

Authority Magazine recently started an interview series called "5 things you should do if you want to become a 'thought leader' in your industry".

We interviewed hundreds of successful thought leaders who shared the five things they would recommend to others who aspire to thought leadership. Below are ten highlights from our interviews:

via Authority Magazine

Adelle Archer, Co-founder of Eterneva

The benefits of working to become a thought leader in your industry:

"An unexamined life is not worth living." — Plato

"When you start to think more deeply about life and the world around you, it unlocks a layer of personal meaning and fulfillment. When you ask yourself, 'What's my personal take on this topic?' and take the time to develop an original answer, you begin to find clarity around what you believe in. What you want to stand for. And perhaps, what your purpose is. We all want to be able to look back and say, 'yes, that was a life well-lived.' To get there takes some reflection, examination, and development of our personal belief systems.

From a business standpoint, thought leadership is a huge competitive differentiation. No one can replicate authenticity and it's sure hard to steal someone's mission!

As a mission-driven brand, thought leadership is a key part of building the business, staying connected with our key stakeholders and meeting new customers.

Great thought leadership also leads to engaged communities of people who relate to your belief system, and they become the best kinds of customers. By way of example, every Tuesday and Thursday we do Inaugurations on Instagram Live, where our team welcomes each new loved one to the Eterneva family and shares their incredible stories with our followers. We do this because we believe remarkable people shouldn't be forgotten, yet interestingly this tradition has brought us many new customers, because they love that we do this, and want to see their loved one shared with the world too.

Thought leadership can also be the muse and catalyst for new innovation. When you're organized by a core set of beliefs, you're always thinking 'What more could we do?'"

Five strategies to becoming a thought leader:

#1 Find your Fire

As I mentioned before, strong thought leadership is rooted in authenticity, so you need to figure out what lights a fire in your belly! What topics could you give an impassioned speech about? For me, it's helpful to think about what injustices I want to fix in the world — that gets me fired up.

#2 Journal About It

Originality of thought is the other cornerstone to effective thought leadership, so it's important to stop and reflect on what you really think about a given topic. To be an effective thought leader on end of life, I had to develop my own relationship with and beliefs around death, so I write!

#3 Talk to Your Customers

Some of the best wisdom comes from conversations with your customers and/or audience. By deeply understanding their context and their world and their context, it helps you see the bigger picture of how your product fits into it.

#4 Become an Observer

A lot of original thought leadership comes from observation — particularly of how things are changing. By paying attention to shifts in culture, societal roles, and values, you can start to make better predictions of what the future will look like. Pay closer attention to how the world is changing around you.

#5 Infuse Emotion

At the heart of great thought leadership is great emotional energy. You feel energized, inspired, a sense of wonder. If you can figure out how to emotionally move someone with your new ideas and beliefs, your thought leadership will be all the more effective.

via Authority Magazine

David Rabin, VP at Lenovo

The benefits of working to become a thought leader in your industry:

"Becoming a thought leader gives you a voice and credibility on a topic you are passionate about. I have personally found this worthwhile because I have been able to empower businesses to think of technology in a new way.

Any time you can be a trusted advisor to your customers and help them improve productivity and transform their business, it is worth your time and energy. It's about solving customer challenges and helping them transition from legacy to the latest technologies that can help them avoid being another Blockbuster or Kodak.

Thought leadership is the most important ingredient for business growth and taking advantage of lucrative opportunities in the market. It could involve transforming the entire company's business model, creating new incubation areas or using the latest technology to improve productivity, collaboration and security. It is about staying competitive in the marketplace and thinking ahead.

Right now, technology is impacting every business and has the ability to empower thought leaders everywhere. At Lenovo we see this as Intelligent Transformation — using intelligent computing to empower people and business. We are delivering customer solutions to help them build more secure, smarter and competitive workplaces.

Since people are companies' most valuable asset, much thought should be put into providing them with all the necessary computing devices that promote agility, creativity and productivity. Emerging technologies, such as AI, IoT and AR will change how employees interact with technology and each other, therefore transforming workplaces to efficient collaboration hubs rather than task-based work environments. Today's workforce, which consists largely of Millennials and Gen Z, is used to having the latest technologies and innovations at their fingertips. Businesses must consider this reality and integrate factors that meet the new workforce's unique needs in order to thrive.

An example of this is the automation of labor-intensive manual tasks. Integrating AI technology in the workplace can effectively streamline busy-work and get your employees focused on more strategic thinking and greater business challenges. Lenovo works with the largest aerospace customers, who are using Lenovo's ThinkReality headsets to eliminate downtime by diagnosing airplane issues, fixing them quickly and getting travelers on the way faster. We are seeing similar applications in manufacturing, oil/gas/utilities, field service, healthcare, engineering and architecture, where thought leaders are transforming their business."

Five strategies to becoming a thought leader:

  1. Ensure you have a clear and consistent message in an area you are an expert in — And drive that message through everything you do. This will be your thought leadership platform, so make sure it is something you are not only credible in but passionate about.

  2. Have an external presence — Speak at industry events, have an online presence, meet with the media, etc. Not only does this give you visibility among industry peers but this also provides great media and networking opportunities.

  3. Don't stop learning — Continue to learn about your industry and area of expertise. It's consistently evolving and to the extent you can stay one step ahead of trends you'll be able to better position yourself as cutting-edge.

  4. Have a confident point-of-view — Take the knowledge you've gathered and package it into a unique, provocative and succinct storyline. Be prepared to stand up for your perspective, or tweak it as your POV evolves. Remember that your background and role make you as qualified as anyone to speak on your topic of choice.

  5. Network — While I mentioned speaking at industry events as a great networking opportunity, I cannot stress enough the importance of networking. Get together with other leaders in your industry, or even send a note to someone you've always admired. You never know what can happen and who you'll meet.

via Authority Magazine

Porscha Sterling, Author

The benefits of working to become a thought leader in your industry:

"The major benefit of being a thought leader is that you're always one (if not more) steps ahead of everyone else. Since your mind is always working to think up the next new thing, you're your only competition and everyone around will begin to follow you. In this way, you've become an expert in your field which builds your brand, helps you gain credibility in your field and leads to the ability to gain a loyal following.

Thought leaders are problem-solvers as well as the key people to ensure that the business continues to progress. They are able to quickly nail down issues that stagnate growth and then rework a plan of something new that can be done to get the machine running again.

Thought leaders are able to connect directly with their audience in order to understand what they need and to deliver those products. That's a necessity in business and extremely valuable."

Five strategies for becoming a thought leader:

1. Research: I am the type of person who researches everything. I'm a glutton for knowledge. Before I started my publishing company, I spent so many hours of my day observing others, reading articles and trying to learn everything that I could. From there, I created my own plan based off what fit my vision, mission and goals as well as the ideas I had of other strategies that might work.

2. Branding: I spent a great amount of time strategizing about my personal brand, what I wanted it to look like, what I wanted people to think about my company and me as a publisher. I wrote down my vision, my mission, my message and I did a lot of thinking about everything that went into, even down to the brand colors — I didn't just pick my favorite colors, I looked into what different colors mean and how they make people feel. I took everything seriously and for every decision I made, I wrote down my reason why. I wanted to make sure that everything worked together to deliver a clear and cohesive message.

3. Network: The next thing I did was build a network full of other people who were knowledgeable about my industry. I created bonds and relationships where we could bounce ideas off each other and ask each other for advice. These individuals also ended up being my core supporters whenever I tried new things.

4. Be Innovative: My vision wasn't based on anything I'd seen other people around doing already. Although I learn from others, my goal was to come up with new ideas and disrupt the normal way of things by making my own mark. Even when I first started my publishing company, I never thought of it as any less than the Big 5 (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster) and it helped me to not put limitations on what I thought was acceptable for me to do.

5. Inform: Rather than take everything I've learned, package it into a manual and place it on my website for sale, I freely give out information through blogs, mentoring other authors or when people reach out with a question. The more people are able to listen to your opinions and views and learn from you, the more they'll see you as the "go-to' source for advice.

But the key here is that you have to have results proving that you know what you're talking about. If you are giving your opinions and advice on a topic that you cannot show a measure of success in, you won't be able to maintain a loyal following for long.

via Authority Magazine

Bert Jacobs, CEO of Life is Good

The benefits of working to become a thought leader in your industry:

"In this day and age, anyone who thinks they can build a business on their own is out to lunch. We all need collaborations, and you never know where your next collaboration is coming from. I've found that sharing unique and interesting ideas attracts unique and interesting minds. At Life is Good, we say that openness is a superpower; the more people we can truly be open with, the higher our chances of helping each other. Throughout the years, some of our best solutions have come from our co-workers, friends, customers, employees and their kids, and even perfect strangers.

In the 25 years we've been in the t-shirt business, most of our partnerships and growth opportunities haven't come from talking to people about the t-shirt business. They've come from talking to people about the shared values that connect us: optimism, gratitude, simplicity, humor, etc.

Our strategy is to partner with other thought leaders in industries we're not involved in. For example, we have no idea how to make a bicycle, but Schwinn does. And we've partnered with them because our companies have aligned on the importance of emotional health for our shared customers.

We also believe art is the single most powerful tool for uniting and inspiring people. Think about it: Right now, in the United States, you can barely get two people on opposite sides of the political spectrum to talk to each other. That is, unless they love the same band.

So, we connect with thought leaders in the music industry — artists like Dave Mathews, Jack Johnson, Brandi Carlile, The Avett Brothers, and many more. We introduce millions of our customers to their music, and they introduce millions of their fans to our brand. The magic is not in the t-shirt. And it's not in the guitar, either. The magic is in the ideas and emotions that the guitar or the t-shirt convey."

Five strategies for becoming a thought leader:

"Honestly, I don't think you should set out to be a thought leader. I think you should set out to do something. Being a thought leader should just be a byproduct.

In my own experience, and in most cases I've observed, becoming a thought leader is a product of other achievements. However, whether you set out to be a thought leader or it just happens to you, here are five things that make sense to focus on:

  1. Take the advice of our friend at the surf shop. Know who you are and act like it. If you're going to be a thought leader, you should be writing, thinking, speaking, and teaching ideas that truly represent the person you are. If you are, the work won't seem like work. If not, your position as a thought leader isn't going to last.

  2. Identify a community that has common needs. Ideally, it's one that lacks leadership and one that might not even consider itself a community.

  3. Identify your value system. For Life is Good, these are the ten superpowers: Authenticity, creativity, courage, compassion, fun, gratitude, humor, love, simplicity, openness.

  4. Be very clear about what you stand for. Take a black and white stance on the issues you're an expert on; allow no gray. Gray positions don't attract followers.

  5. Don't take yourself or your position on any issue too seriously. Everyone needs to smile and laugh and have a good time. If you can sprinkle in some entertainment as a thought leader, your stock as a thought leader will triple."

via Authority Magazine

Dorit Donoviel, of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH)

The benefits of working to become a thought leader in your industry:

"The unhappiness in the world may be partly due to misunderstanding each other and the inability of people to put themselves in someone else's shoes. Solving big problems requires diversity of opinions and approaches. It's absolutely necessary for people to listen to each other and remain open to possibilities, even when they appear to contradict their own positions. Being a thought leader means you need to remain humble and recognize your own myopia.

Organizations that don't remain responsive to their ever-changing environments will stop being relevant. Thought leadership ensures that institutions, like TRISH, are always adapting and taking advantage of new opportunities. For example, while we are partnered with NASA, we also keep an eye on the burgeoning commercial spaceflight industry and look for ways to serve them as well, because our work has the potential to safeguard the health of everyone that goes to space."

Five strategies for becoming a thought leader:

  1. Stay humble. It's not always about you, so do what you can to shine a light on others.

  2. It's OK to change your mind. You make decisions based on the information available to you at one point in time. You might have to shift course when the facts on the ground do — be open to that.

  3. Try to stand in the other person's shoes. Expand your point of view.

  4. Listen with curiosity and learn, learn, learn!

  5. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.

via Authority Magazine

Jordan Morrow, Qlik’s Global Head of Data Literacy

The benefits of working to become a thought leader in your industry:

"It is an opportunity to spread an important message — one that you believe in. And if gives you a credible platform to bring that message and ultimately, your vision (in my case data literacy) to life.

I have had the opportunity to speak at various events which have led me to uncover new opportunities and relationships for Qlik. For example, I recently participated at a TEDx event because a person I was teaching suggested I speak at the event. On top of this, I have spoken at multiple conferences from around the world. As such, thought leadership has truly opened up doors. I believe organizations need to take on thought leadership to show that they are not only about products they sell, but really about furthering important messages around the world. Doing so opens up many doors for business and opportunities."

Five strategies for becoming a thought leader:

  1. Have a message platform and a unique point of view — Ask yourself what your ambitions are and what you're passionate about.

  2. Build your online presence — Whether it's a blog, social media presence or your own website make sure you create a platform for your audience to see your content. For example, I talk a lot about data literacy on our Qlik blog as well as on my social handles which give me an opportunity to drive my audience to a "home base' to view all my musings.

  3. Travel and network — I have met people all over the world that I would not have been able to meet otherwise. I have come across so many new experiences and seen advances in technology that have inspired ideas I brought to Qlik. For example: my opportunity to speak at a TEDx event came because someone I met while traveling suggested I apply and go for their TEDx event.

  4. Promote yourself — Speak at industry events, contribute to media outlets or stories, and ultimately give yourself a broader platform beyond your own social media and blog to showcase why and how you are a leading voice in your area.

  5. Become data literate — It's clear that data will continue to become the most valuable asset. Position yourself to lead in this environment.

via Authority Magazine

Sandra Mohr, Dean at The New England College of Optometry

The benefits of working to become a thought leader in your industry:

"Thought leaders matter and they have the ability to motivate and encourage others to continue moving forward the ideas that matter to you. Your question has some key items when you think about investing resources and energy into becoming a thought leader. This role does not happen overnight, it takes years of hard work and dedication to achieve this honor.

You definitely have to make the decision if this is something that you want to do and if so commit the time to making your voice heard. It can be powerful to be seen as a thought leader and develop value to those who follow your message. A thought leader's goal is to help others know and learn the things that you are known through sharing of your message.

When thinking about thought leadership, what is someone known for? How do they use what they are known for to collaborate with others on innovative ideas and help turn those into reality which hopefully develop into long term sustainable practices? Developing a platform where your leadership is shared helps to create visibility and allow you to fain influence. This can lead to better positions, speaking opportunities, publishing opportunities, etc.

When people know you are good at an area and have skills and knowledge, they will seek you out for a variety of opportunities. Selecting things that make sense for both sides you and the requester are key to really have an impact and expand your reach."

Five strategies for becoming a thought leader:

  1. Figure out your niche area — we are all good at many things, strategically where are your strengths and passions to find something you want to be consistent in working at? These can grow and adapt throughout one's career but starting with one area is key.

  2. Commit to lifelong learning and development in this area — you will never know everything in your area, always be on the lookout to learn more and try to find ways of furthering the field and helping others.

  3. Join a committee or task force in niche area — Join and take part in areas where you can share your experiences. Become a leader in any way possible at the beginning and work to figure out the path that makes sense for you.

  4. Connect and network with other thought leaders — with social media, it is easy to connect and follow what they are doing. Share comments and insights and offer to assist them if there is something that you can do to add value for them.

  5. Develop a strategy for how you will share your ideas, network with others in your niche space, and create new ideas. Ideas are great but are only as good as they spread. How will you share them with your network and a larger area of influence?

via Authority Magazine

John Levisay, CEO of NBCU’s Bluprint

The benefits of working to become a thought leader in your industry:

"A lot of people have compelling ideas or visions that could be classified as thought leadership. Many professors, authors and journalists are thought leaders, but when you hear them in person they come off as theoretical, stiff or academic. The difference in the business world is how you effectively articulate this vision in a way that inspires people to invest, join, follow and execute the vision. Being a great storyteller is critical, and catalyzes people's ability to see the vision through and get on board. Infusing a given story with humility or humor helps.

Thought leadership needs to be manifested in a vision, mission, strategy and goals that people can grab onto and understand. They need to believe in the mission and vision, but also have a visceral grasp and context as to how their role in the organization moves the mission and vision forward. Businesses are not think thanks where you get points for thought leadership in a vacuum. All employees need context as to how they can help provide leverage to see the "thought leadership" through to results. This is not as important during good times when everything is going up and to the right, but becomes particularly critical when times get tough."

Five strategies for becoming a thought leader in their industry:

  1. My friend and mentor Michael Dearing is a big advocate of Barbara Minto's Pyramid Principle, which says that all problems in your life or in business can be broken down into a simple framework: Situation, Complication, Question(s), and Answer. I think great thought leaders have an uncanny way of deconstructing big problems into this easily understandable framework for team members, investors and customers.

  2. Be able to tell a story that excites people. Put the situation and ultimate answer into an example so that people understand and can see the possibilities. Be ready to be told you are an idiot.

  3. Deeply and honestly explore/analyze the shortfalls and "objections" to a hypothesis for an idea. You always know the questions people are going to ask: Is this scalable? Is it defensible? Is the idea empirically sound and valid? How much capital is it going to require and are there adequate returns based on unit economics and total addressable market to justify capital investment? What's the execution risk? Acknowledging and proactively addressing the risks in a new idea shows thoroughness and engenders legitimacy to the story.

  4. Be open minded and appreciate multiple disciplines, perspectives and approaches to forming a solution and executing against an innovative problem. When the British were trying to break the German codes in WWII they did not just bring together engineers, mathematicians and physicists. They brought in poets, musicians and historians as well. You need to appreciate and understand the art and the science of a problem and solution set. Modern day consumer internet marketing is an example of this phenomenon where multiple quant and qual disciples need to work together symbiotically to win.

  5. Be curious, rigorous, and humble. Do not let a "win" in the thought leadership arena, whether deserved or serendipitous, manifest itself into hubris that blinds you to your, or your organizations shortcomings. For example, creating a vision for and designing a great electric car was an example of phenomenal thought leadership, thinking you could manufacture it better than companies that have been making cars for 100 years, may be an example of no one around you being able to say no.

via Authority Magazine

Aubrey Bergauer, VP at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music

The benefits of working to become a thought leader in your industry:

"Well, when you're on a mission to change the narrative for an entire industry, there's no other way but to invest resources and energy. It's all-consuming. The benefits are that when you believe there's a better way, a better world that your corner of the universe can help create, it's easier to speak up about it and put in the work to establish yourself as an authority on the issues. And then when there is a glimmer of hope and change, that's when the benefit/reward really comes: when I get to see that there are other people in this world who believe in that vision too. I've learned the more I put a stake in the ground in terms of what I'm working toward and what I stand for, the more and more other people are attracted to that same goal and purpose come into my orbit. Now we're talking about the beginning of a movement. Wow is classical music ready for a movement.

For me, I was able to start my own full-time consultancy. It gave me freedom, ability, and scope to have an impact beyond the one organization I served. I went into my career as a classical music nerd, and now, as I mentioned, I realize that classical music isn't the end, it's the vehicle I chose to affect a lot of change in a lot of ways. More and more people and organizations outside classical music are now reaching out for speaking engagements and to work with me on all these same issues that affect so many of our businesses (growing our customer base, designing for loyalty, UX research, DEI, company culture, and remaining relevant to our community)."

Five strategies for becoming a thought leader:

  1. Content: Prove It Again and Again. Executing something well once isn't enough. Every time I've led teams to growth, it's because we've delivered time and again, and more important, leveraged that repeated success externally to drive ticket sales and donations. The same is true for producing content, or storytelling, or whatever you want to call it. In a universe of short attention spans and fleeting loyalty, in order to grow trust and authority, the rest of the market (e.g. the community, the general public, potential supporters, prospective patrons, those not already drinking the Kool-Aid) needs to see proven and authenticated success before they'll join the family. In other words, we need to give people a bandwagon, and bandwagons don't happen because of that one cool piece of content that person generated one time. Deliver success again and again, and then make sure the market knows a lot of people are on board with that success, and they can be too.

  2. Provide Value. From my first article on why "getting new audiences" isn't the right answer, to sharing research on what newcomers really think about the orchestra experience, to efforts to invite and welcome multicultural audiences to our core repertoire rather than one-off culturally specific programs that encourage one-off culturally specific attendance, the goal is to constantly focus on how to bring value to others. At the Symphony, I say we must diligently, consistently, and even obsessively put the patron at the center of what we do. On thought leadership, I say that providing value and helpful information to those following my work is the single best thing I can do to grow that following.

  3. Positivity Wins. Scaring people into action works in the short term; it does not work in the long term. I've read this is because motivating others out of fear or negativity articulates what we are against, which is more vague than articulating what we stand for. And when we are looking at orchestras, acting out of fear and/or negativity is sometimes an unfortunate part of arts and culture that spans fiscal year end campaigns (help us balance the budget to keep the music playing), union negotiations (do this to avoid a work stoppage), and the way we all talk on social media (see above comment about loving to bemoan the demise of this art form). None of those tactics ever work to create lasting change, and certainly not thought leadership. What does work though, is positivity. Talking about the future we imagine for my orchestra and the art form has excited donors more every time over "give by June 30" (a deadline that's relevant only to the organization, not the donor); talking about programming and projects we are actively planning has proven better at the bargaining table with the musicians union (in other words, talking about how much we want to be playing over what it may look like to not be playing); and using my blog to talk about how the California Symphony actively addressed problems instead of only pontificating about them has built a following. When we are positive, others believe and buy in too. Positivity isn't just a mindset, it's a strategy.

  4. Use Data…All. The. Time. In an industry that can be incredibly subjective — which on one hand makes sense as art of any kind lends itself to subjectivity in its evaluation, but on the other hand has led to unobjective approaches in other aspects of our business — using data has served me and the organizations for which I've worked very, very well. Many times over the years, I've seen or been part of discussions about what color the brochure should be or what verbiage the fundraising appeal should include, and early on, I discovered that these decisions do not have to be based on opinion nor require a big time suck for debate; they can and should be tested and measured so the people executing this work can proceed with confidence. In other words, data matters because it's the opposite of opinion or conjecture; it's betting on a winning horse.

  5. Experiment and Iterate. Author and Stanford Professor Jim Collins said it this way: Fire bullets before cannonballs, meaning try something and see how it plays out — whether that's writing a blog post on a different topic than normal, or in the nonprofit space giving a subset of donors a special version of the fundraising appeal letter to see if the average donation is higher, or running a pilot education program before launching a full scale behemoth. And then when we know what's working, with assurance we put more resource behind it. In other words, use an iterative approach. Try something, measure its effectiveness, revise, refine, and try again in the next go-round. It's trendy because it works.

via Authority Magazine

Dave Erickson Founder of FreeConferenceCall.com

The benefits of working to become a thought leader in your industry:

"Sometimes the negative vibes from others or the resistance to change can be pretty dramatic and theatrical. At times this can be the most draining for me — so I try not to dwell on the opposition. However, it is very important to not become complacent — striking that balance that allows me to know I'm being responsible in all ways considerable . That should be important to a thought leader and it is definitely worth investing the energy to consider other's thoughts completely.

Being the tip of the spear has its moments when thrown carelessly. It is not only important to invest resources but to also invest in your resources. I have found over my career that people are by far the most valuable resource, and investing in them and their culture and allowing them to do the same is important.

Being a thought leader has been essential to my companies' survival as a telecommunications business. As background, when I began offering my service I needed to work with other telecom carriers to grow. At the time all of the big carriers refused to partner with a small unknown company, so I worked out deals with smaller, rural phone companies who were in dire need of new business streams. As the volume of calls coming through these rural carriers took off, the big guys took notice and began looking into details around the new surge in call volume. When they realized the nature of the calls they saw a competitive threat and immediately began lobbying the FCC to change long-standing telecom regulations in their favor. Some carriers also filed suit and AT&T decided to block calls to rural areas — a tactic that had a drastic effect on phone service, including an inability for local residents to reach emergency services.

Armed with my complete knowledge of telecom rules and regulations and the knowledge I was providing a service that consumers loved and needed, I began four years of flying back and forth to Washington D.C. from California once a month to work out an equitable solution with the carriers and the FCC. I had little support in the government and found it impossible to hire a qualified lobbyist or lawyer who wasn't immediately hired and paid more by the competition. I knew the FCC had levied fines for call blocking in the past and I expected similar action when I flew to DC to challenge AT&T's move. Instead, the FCC responded by calling officials at Qwest, AT&T, Sprint Nextel and Verizon to warn them the blocking was 'unacceptable.'

If I wasn't an experienced and deeply knowledgeable thought leader going into this fight with big rivals and the government, I would have been put out of business immediately. I would not have had the knowledge or willpower to successfully fight what turned out to be just the first salvo in a 20-year-battle against the higher-priced competition. I won that battle and am still in business largely because I took the time to understand telecom regulation before I ever entered the business and I have invested the time necessary to stay on top of every change and update since that time so I can protect my freedom to operate and my customers' access to free global conference calling.

Here are a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities.

  1. Hiring the best people. It's no secret that people want to work for people on the move to make a difference, and I know that my investment in my business and the industry as a whole have been key factors in convincing some of the best talents in the world to come work alongside me and take up the charge. We are a small, privately-held company led by executives from some of the world's biggest and most admired companies, and that kind of talent is key to growing the business and creating new opportunities.

  2. Building our customer base. Being a thought leader also helps establish the credibility necessary for building our customer base — particularly among business users. We have more than 800,000 business customers including users at 84 percent of the Fortune 500. They rely on their conferencing provider for mission-critical communications and our reputation is key to establishing and maintaining those relationships.

  3. International expansion. Our reputation has also helped us establish the local connections and governmental cooperation necessary to expand our network globally. Twenty years ago we launched our service in the United States and today we are reaching nearly every part of the globe with service in 160 countries — each with their own telecom rules and regulations. It's a highly complex system that requires a great deal of knowledge to build and maintain.

Five strategies for becoming a thought leader:

  1. Be authentic . The most important aspect of establishing thought leadership is a passion for the subject. Becoming an expert, building relationships and staying on top of evolving markets takes a great deal of time and energy and you simply won't be successful if you're not truly passionate about your area of work. You won't have the drive and the people will work with will see through any attempt to build thought leadership purely for personal advancement.

  2. Schedule time to stay informed . As the founder and CEO of multiple companies, my attention is pulled in many different directions and I have to be disciplined about staying up-to-date on evolving technology, competitive offerings and regulations. I have to find the time each month to take in tons of data and ensure I'm keeping abreast of developments that impact my business. Oftentimes, that reading has to be done outside the office so I can have the space I need to think and plan without distraction.

  3. Engage outside your comfort zone .  The first time I was asked to testify on Capitol Hill I was terrified but I believed in my mission and knew I had to take action or my ability to operate could be negatively impacted. Whether it's networking with a new group of partners or giving a presentation to a packed house, find out where your audiences are gathering and get yourself out there.

  4. Be persistent . For the last 20 years, I have been in constant battle defending my business. My competition has repeatedly blocked calls, refused to pay bills, filed lawsuits and complaints with the FCC. The company has been sued multiple times and I have gone before the FCC on more than 50 occasions. We are still waiting on payment for millions of dollars of contracted services and we've spent millions more on legal defense. In addition to the business attacks, my competition has also tried to impeach my personal character painting me in the media as unscrupulous and exploitative. I need to know it's worth it and remind myself that anyone doing something truly disruptive will always face pushback from the entrenched companies they are looking to unseat. True thought leaders have to stand firm and continue pushing for the change they believe in despite opposition.

  5. Surround yourself with other thought leaders . Leading a company, staying ahead of developments and battling competition can be exhausting work. I rely on the insight, support and company of other thought leaders to keep me inspired. Whether it's a peer group, your executive team or even your family members, find like-minded leaders who will be there for you when you need a reminder of why you get up every morning.

Yitzi Weiner

Editor-in-Chief of Authority Magazine

Yitzi Weiner is editor-in-chief of Authority Magazine and the CEO of Thought Leader Incubator, a business incubator based in Maryland. 

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