A thought leader is a recognized authority figure who brings value to their industry or business by regularly contributing cutting edge insights, opinions, and solutions. Thought leadership is popular on many media outlets, but by far the most commonly used platform for sharing this type of content is LinkedIn.

What does it take to be a thought leader?

Amelia Keiser lists the following five things in her article on BrandYourself as necessary if you want to brand yourself as a thought leader. According to her, you must have:

  • Expertise in a particular niche
  • Ongoing involvement in that niche
  • A clearly identified point of view
  • Credibility
  • A supportive following

At the risk of sounding like a kungfu master, it’s worth noting that you must obtain success in all five areas to become a true thought leader. Many people have proclaimed themselves thought leaders even if they don’t possess the experience or credibility to back up this claim (and end up inadvertently souring the public perception of thought leadership in the process).

Do you have what it takes to be a thought leader?

Three steps to become a LinkedIn thought leader

1. Brush up your LinkedIn profile

The first thing you need to be a LinkedIn thought leader is an optimized profile. Make sure your experiences and accomplishments are up to date and, if possible, ask your former/current colleagues to endorse your skills. These endorsements not only validate your credibility and highlight your strengths, they boost your profile searchability.

A big part of this is your professional bio. Does it give people an accurate idea of your strengths, expertise, and values? Does it tell the story of how you’ve become a credible source? As Adrian Zee says in this article on how to write an excellent bio, “…at the forefront of your personal brand is your bio.”

2. Connect with other experts in your field

Network, network, network! Remember, gaining a supportive following is one of the five challenges you must overcome to become a successful kungfu master — er, thought leader. Join LinkedIn groups for your industry and comment on article threads. Maintain a consistent engagement with other people’s content, because good, respected leaders are not all about me, me, me; if you want people to support you, you’re going to have to support them too.

3. Post informed, thought-provoking insights about your niche

Take the time to publish several LinkedIn articles so others on the platform have the opportunity to learn about your work and point of view. In addition to introducing yourself to your audience, these long form posts help display the credibility of your work and POV. (Hint: this is your chance to show off your expertise!)

Unfortunately, most people have short attention spans these days, so also make sure to regularly post shorter insights and thoughts. These are easily digestible and make great lunch-break reading material. If you want to spruce things up, sprinkle in a few photos and videos for some variety.

Together, these steps form a simple and actionable DIY guide for anyone interested in producing thought leadership content on LinkedIn. However, a word of caution: don’t make the mistake of assuming you can slap “thought leader in the _______ industry” across your LinkedIn header after posting just a few, or even many, inspirational articles. It can be easy to focus so intently on proving yourself through your content and impressing people with your thoughts that you forget to honour the “leadership” part of thought leadership.

The ability to be a good leader for positive change is where the core and value of thought leadership truly lies. Like with any other mode of leadership, being an inspiring thought leader requires a substantial amount of courage, sincerity, humility, compassion, and vulnerability. Real thought leaders share their knowledge from a sincere motivation to help others and get things done rather than an aim to further their business agenda or reap egotistical rewards.

So, say you meet all five of Amelia Keiser’s criteria and have created the perfect LinkedIn profile. Here’s the part where I come in as the wise, old kungfu master and ask you: do you have what it truly takes to be a thought leader?