What Makes Someone a Thought Leader: Real vs Self-Proclaimed

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What makes someone a thought leader? Is it the number of followers they have? The titles they've achieved? Their years of experience?  What is the difference between a thought leader and someone who just calls themselves one? 

Thought leaders are everywhere. They're on your favorite podcasts, in your local coffee shop, and even on your social media feeds. But how can you tell who is truly a thought leader and who is just claiming to be one?

There are a lot of people out there who call themselves a thought leader. Thought leaders are not just people who call themselves thought leaders – they have a real impact on those around them and change the way people think. But what actually makes someone a real thought leader?

In this episode, we explore the characteristics that set a true thought leader apart from the rest.

Listen to the Episode

Read the Full Transcript

Atiba de Souza: Hey, welcome to thoughts on thought leadership with Atiba.

I am your host, Atiba. And, you know, yesterday I saw a brand and I'm not going to name the name of the brand, but their tagline was we are the self-proclaimed leader of X industry for Y customer. And it reminded me of a question that I see a lot. Right. And it has to do with thought leadership and people always asking so how do I know what a real thought leader is versus someone who's just self-proclaimed and then you just self proclaim yourself as a thought leader? Like, how does that work? And so, as I was looking at that brand yesterday, an old song, well popped in my head and I kind of modified the song, will the real thought leaders please stand up.

Y'all remember that? I'm kind of dating myself right with that song, but, but you know, will the real thought leaders please stand up and people are asking them, how do I know who's a real thought leader? What is a real thought leader or someone who's just self-proclaimed as a thought leader? Well, here's the deal and here's the truth.

There is no governing board that says, Hey, you are now a thought leader. There's no special council that comes in and anoints someone as a thought leader. There's no magical thing that happens that says you've just crossed into the land of thought leadership. That, there's nothing that announce you. So what's a real thought leader then? A real thought leader, my friends, is someone who people follow. People who, someone who people trust for their expertise and they care more about their customers than their bottom lines. But hear that, a real thought leader is someone who has a real expertise that people follow and they care more about their customers than their bottom lines, but that still leaves you with a bit of a perplexing situation. I'm sure you're scratching your heads in. Okay. I get that, you know, you care more about your customers than your bottom line, you're an expert, but does that make you a thought leader? Like, how do you know when you've arrived at thought leadership? Like, how do I know when I get there?

Right. Well guess what? You don't. That's the truth. You don't know. You don't know. You see, because real thought leaders, they don't do it for the status and yes, there's a ton of status in being the thought leader of your industry or your niche, but the reality is, real thought leaders never set out on this journey to become thought leaders because of the status.

They did it because of the relationships. The relationships with their customers, the relationships with their audience and the relationships with their potential customers. That's why real thought leaders do it. They do it to build amazing relationships where they can add value to their audience, their customers and their potential customers.

That's the key. It's not about the status for a real thought leader. It's about adding value to those people. Okay. That's what's really important. That's what's really important. It's about those genuine relationships that they get to build by sharing their heart and their passion, and that my friends then turns into sales.

You see the thing about it, about thought leadership is when we actually share our heart and our passion, where we share our expertise with our audience, with our customers, with our potential customers, and we are truly authentic with them that turns into sales. It turns into repeat business and it builds the status as a thought leader.

It builds your status as a thought leader. Okay. So if you got into it for the status, then you're in it for the wrong reason. Real thought leaders, we're going back to this, real thought leaders are people who have people who trust them because of their expert, expertise. People are following them because of their expertise and they care more about the relationships with their customers than the bottom line.

That's the key, guys. That's the key right there. Okay. That's what makes you a real thought leader. Not just somebody who is in it for the status. You see, when you get in it for the relationships, when you get in it to share your expertise, when you get in it because you actually care to help your customers and your potential customers lives be better, the status follows. And with that status increases your bottom line. With that status increases your bottom line, but you've got to get into it for the right reasons. So now how do you tell if someone's a real thought leader or not? Check their content. That's the key. Check the content. And so you're wondering, are you on the path to thought leadership yourself? Or do you want to get on the path? Check your content.

Why are you creating content? Is it all just promotional content or are you creating content to actually add value to your customer? Are you creating content to actually build relationship with your customer? Are you creating content out of a place of, let me help versus let me take? Are you creating content just for marketing purposes or are you creating content to say, Hey, let me help my potential customer and my customers be better.

Let me educate them. Let me show them the right way. Let me teach them something from my expertise, because I realized if I teach them from my expertise then yeah, they'll be willing to become my customer because they realize they can trust me. And that's the key because people only do business with people they know, like, and trust.

And so if your customers aren't trusting you, they're not going to do business with you. They're not going to do business with you. Right? So it's all about adding value. Now, let me pause for a moment there and talk about what does it mean to add value? What does it mean to add value? Very simply, what it means to add value is to consider where your customer, potential customer or audience is before they consume your content and where would you like them to be after they consume your content. In other words, what would you like them to learn? What, what are you trying to teach them? Right. That's going to help them. And then define in your content the steps that you need to go through to help them get there. Now, that's adding value at a, at a very big level.

Now then let me break it down a little bit smaller for you and explain it in this way. You're just trying to help your potential customer, customer, or audience get one step closer to the solution that they're looking for. Okay. One step closer. So for example, if my goal was to teach you calculus, if I just started off talking with about derivatives, you'd have no clue what I'm talking about.

However, if we start off at arithmetic, one plus one equals two, because I realized maybe that's where you are. You're just learning math. And I start you there, then I can add value to you by teaching one plus one equals two, and then next week we'll do some multiplication and then some division and then some long division all the way up to teaching you calculus.

I can't just teach you calculus on day one. I have to step you through a process. I have to add value to you step by step by step by step. So adding value is helping someone take one step closer to their ultimate goal. By first, considering where they're starting, where is your audience? What do they know?

What do they believe when they first start listening to whatever or consuming whatever content you're giving them? Where are they starting? And what, what's the step that you want them to take? What's the goal that you want them to get to by the end of consuming that content and how do you help them get there?

What do you have to educate them on? Show them, teach them to help them get there. So real thought leaders are all about adding value. That's what thought leaders do. They're continually, continually concerned about how do I add value to my audience, my customer, and my potential customer, because they realized by adding genuine value, not marketing hype, genuine value, telling the truth, they will build relationships that will sustain time.

And allow them to eventually grow their bottom line because they have all of these fantastic people that they've built relationships with that know, like, and trust them. So, my friends, if you're in a place where you're ready to start adding value, and you think that, you know, maybe your niche and you might be thinking maybe your niche needs a thought leader, I'm telling you your niche needs a thought leader, and I'm telling you if you're that expert, you're that person.

But if you're not sure yet it's okay, we get it, I get it. I've actually got a quiz link down below, right? It's our thought leadership readiness quiz. Take the quiz. See where you land. Maybe you're closer than you think to being ready to become a thought leader or maybe you're so far away, maybe you're right. Who knows, but take the quiz, take the quiz and see.

All right, everybody. I will see you next time. Bye.


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