How To Become A Thought Leader

How to become a thought leader

Table of Contents

How to become a thought leader in your industry

Thought leaders make it look so effortless, publishing riveting articles and posts that introduce new ideas and frameworks or elegantly capture what seems to be on everybody’s mind. In fact, becoming a thought leader takes strategy, discipline and time.

But for those who do want to be a thought leader, there are some hacks that can streamline the process and make it easier to refine their ideas and connect with audiences. Here’s a step-by-step guide for the aspiring thought leader based on nearly 30 years’ combined experience in the field.

Thought leaders find their platforms on different channels: Some prefer video, others long-form articles in prestigious publications. Still others take their messages to social media channels like Instagram and LinkedIn. But what all have in common is that they are thoroughly knowledgeable about their industry and how it fits into the larger society. They are experts who make their learning and wisdom accessible to broad audiences in a way that is compelling to insiders and casual observers, alike.

Many do so out of a sincere desire to give back and help advance their industry, but a robust and strategic thought leadership program also pays tangible dividends. In a recent Harris poll, 92% of executives said they believed thought leadership was critical to building authority in their industry. Nine out of 10 said they personally consumed thought leadership, and 93% viewed it as an indicator of a category or industry leader.

Thought leadership has become particularly important in recent years as remote work, distributed teams and diminished opportunity for in-person networking have made it more difficult to forge personal connections. In a virtual work, compelling thought leadership content helps stakeholders get to know you, your thinking and business. That’s a critical differentiator that can help you more easily connect with potential clients, partners, team members and others. 

In fact, according to a recent Harris Poll on the ROI of thought leadership, executives reported a 14x ROI from investments in thought leadership. These are long-tail gains that compound over time as your thought-leadership imprint continues to grow. And although the idea seems daunting, there are a few steps you can take to start building your thought leadership persona right now.

Here are the steps to take to start elevating your profile and establishing yourself as a leader in your field.


How to develop industry thought leadership

Thought leadership has traditionally been associated with executives and other high-level professionals who have cemented themselves as experts in their respective fields. However, the concept of thought leadership has evolved in recent years, and it’s now being embraced by a wider range of professionals, including up-and-coming individuals who are looking to establish themselves as experts. In fact, thought leadership can be a powerful tool for anyone who wants to build their reputation and credibility, regardless of their level of experience or seniority. By providing valuable insights and solutions to the challenges facing their industry, up-and-comers can establish themselves as trusted authorities and build a loyal following. Here’s how.


Step 1: Identify Your Niche

The first step to thought leadership is identifying where your expertise intersects with what audiences are craving. Both elements are equally important. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to solidify a reputation based on thin knowledge and glancing experience. Similarly, your thought leadership content won’t gain much traction if you’re writing or speaking about issues that don’t seem relevant to viewers and readers inside and outside your field of expertise. (If finding your niche feels overwhelming, don’t worry: thought leadership and personal branding agencies can help you with the strategic heavy lifting.)

Importantly, you don’t need to be a Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos to build a loyal audience. Niche thought leaders are found throughout all sorts of industries. Take poker pro Jennifer Shahade, who uses the game to share life lessons, or futurist Brian Solis, who somehow manages to make intricate trends and technologies accessible to a general audience. 

Ultimately, the key to becoming a successful thought leader is to provide valuable insights and solutions that resonate with your audience. By doing so, you can build a loyal following and establish yourself as a trusted authority in your field. This starts with putting in time to determine your area of expertise, study the thought leaders who are already speaking to the issues (if there are any), identify the gaps in the market and stake your claim.


Step 2: Build Your Brand

Once you’ve identified your niche, it’s time to develop a personal brand. Do this by establishing your online presence and deploying a content strategy that draws readers and viewers into your orbit with regular, relevant and insightful content. You don’t need to publish every day, or every week, to start brand building, but you do need to publish at a regular cadence of high-impact, sharable and snackable thoughts. 

Here is just a sampling of the various forms that thought leadership content can take:

Thought leadership channel

What is it? 


Social media posts

Short updates shared regularly on platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram 

Jyoti Bansal’s LinkedIn

Opeds and Contributed articles

Newsworthy takes on current issues and trends published in media outlets

Dara Khosrowshahi’s NYT oped

Blogs and Newsletters 

A recurring content series, on your own site or third-party platforms like Substack

Lenny Rachitsky’s newsletter 


Your own professionally produced series exploring your area of expertise

Alexa von Tobel’s The Founder’s Project Podcast


In-depth explorations of relevant topics, either self-published or produced with an established publisher

Dare to Lead, by Brené Brown

Speaking engagements

Keynote speeches or panel appearances at conferences and events 

Bijan Robinson at SXSW

Media appearances and interviews

Reporters and writers reach out to you as a go-to authority on your areas of expertise

Serena Williams’ interview about her VC company

Video series 

One-off videos or series exploring strategic topics

WorkLife with Adam Grant


Proprietary data or in-depth analysis

Visier research portal


Most importantly, the content strategy should be intentional, centered around a few meaningful themes and issues. Posting random thoughts and observations doesn’t count. In fact, it could actually negatively impact your brand. Be sure to engage with and listen to your audience as it grows to further tailor and refine your content to be the most meaningful and build on your growing success. Admittedly, this is easier said than done and requires both time commitment and focus. Collaborating with the right content and branding agencies can minimize your cycles and ensure you’re seeing ROI for your efforts.


Step 3: Establish Credibility

Thought leadership is not an arena where you can sit on your laurels, or keep going back to the same handful of tips and pointers. True thought leaders make every effort to stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends. This means reading and watching other thought leaders, attending industry events and conferences, publishing articles in industry publications and collaborating with others to keep extending your reach and deepening your impact. 

Take Professor Brené Brown, who built a thought leadership empire from the foundation of her viral 2010 TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability” — becoming a bestselling author and public speaker on the topics of leadership, vulnerability, shame, and empathy.

Thought leadership is such a vibrant and active community that standing still is the same as falling behind.


Step 4: Develop Your Expertise

But it’s not enough to just stay on top of thought leadership trends and influencers. Authentic thought leadership comes from a place of deep knowledge and wisdom. To establish yourself as a thought leader, you must read voraciously, ask prescient questions and stay informed.

When Kenny Rachitsky left his job at Airbnb to pursue writing and coaching, he dove deep into themes of leadership and project management. His informed and engaging newsletters quickly gained traction in the tech industry and is now among the industry’s most widely read. Lenny’s newsletter continues to be a respected source of information for his more than 364,000 subscribers.

In today’s crowded and competitive world of thought leadership, authentically valuable content is a way to differentiate yourself from the competition. In that Harris poll, 66% of executives admit that the market feels oversaturated with uninteresting thought leadership today, even though 93% of business leaders say thought leadership is more important now compared to pre-pandemic because it’s harder to get noticed in a more virtual working world.

How do you continue to grow your expertise? Take courses and attend workshops, share your knowledge and mentor others, and experiment with new ideas and approaches. The best thought leaders are continuous learners who are passionate about sharing their new knowledge with others. Everyone loves a good origin story, but if you lean too heavily on old learnings, stale information and aged accomplishments, audiences will quickly leave you to find a thought leader committed to staying up to date.


Step 5: Networking and Continuous Improvement

Once you’ve established yourself as a thought leader, it’s important to do the work necessary to stay in a leadership position. This involves networking, speaking online and in person, and actively soliciting feedback for continuous improvement.

For example, an aspiring thought leader in the domain of entrepreneurship might join organizations like the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, YPO or Social Enterprise Alliance to start building a network and engage with others who have similar interests. They could then attend conferences like the Startup Grind Global Summit to take part in panel discussions, learn from other subject matter experts and find other opportunities to share their ideas and expertise. Finally, they might join members-only Slack channels like Startup Study Group, Startup Resources, Launch or FemaleFounders to engage in regular conversations and continue building their networks and expanding their circles of influence.

It’s vital to stay humble and open to learning even as you’re reaping the rewards of a successful thought leadership strategy. Continue building relationships with other professionals in your industry and look for new opportunities — new distribution channels, new partnerships, new ideas and new audiences to further your continued growth. When soliciting feedback, remember: 

  • Be clear about what kind of feedback you are looking for. This will make it easier for others to share thoughts and ensure you’re receiving actionable advice.
  • Choose the right people to ask. Be strategic about where and when you solicit feedback as part of an overall networking strategy. Choose people you admire who have the relevant expertise.
  • Ask open-ended questions to elicit deeper insights. You want much more information than a simple “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” will provide.
  • Say thanks and stay connected. Even if the feedback is negative, try to see it as a growth opportunity and follow up with the source later to thank them again for their candid thoughts.



A robust and strategic thought leadership effort is a great way to connect with like-minded leaders, advance your personal and company objectives, separate yourself from a crowded field of competitors, and share the wealth of knowledge you’ve so assiduously amassed. And the dividends can be impressive: In that same Harris poll where executives reported a 14x ROI from their thought leadership investments, they estimated that thought leadership drives an annual value of $2.7 million; among Fortune 100 executives, this number jumped to $3.6 million per year. The poll also revealed:

  • 9 in 10 executives believe thought leadership is critical to building authority in their industry.
  • 90% of business leaders consume thought leadership themselves, and 93% view it as an indicator of a category or industry leader.
  • 78% of executives say most organizations check the box on thought leadership but don’t push the envelope.
  • 93% of business leaders say thought leadership is more important now compared to pre-pandemic because it’s harder to get noticed in a more virtual working world.

By following these steps, you can embark on your own journey towards thought leadership, whatever your industry and at almost any part of your career trajectory. It just takes a willingness to commit, to put in the work and to keep learning and building as you go. Though the process may seem daunting, a growing number of agencies are specializing in support services — including branding, ghostwriting, media placements and strategy — to help you on the journey. 

About Remy Scalza

Remy Scalza began his career as a journalist, contributing to the Washington Post, New York Times and Globe and Mail. After years of interviewing executives at leading companies, he recognized a need for writing and publishing services designed for thought leaders and established CSuite Content. He holds a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication.