A popular nugget of advice in personal branding is to become a thought leader. Personally, I think it is an overused, misunderstood phrase (at least with my interpretation); I see thought leaders like influencers in LinkedIn: there are relatively few of them, they are brilliant, and their distinction comes from others. Truth is, it is very difficult to come up with a fresh perspective and become an authority in any specialization. According to a Forbes article, the definition of a thought leader is:
A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.[i]
If you have the competency and passion to be a thought leader, it is a worthwhile endeavor. Of course, you must be highly intelligent because there is a lot of competition to become one. (This is why I do not suggest most people trying to become a thought leader; it is unrealistic.) It also requires due diligence to stay on top of the latest trends. Finally, it takes many years to establish a reputation. The payoff for being a thought leader is influence – something that has significant weight nowadays. Someone with thousands of followers and a high Klout score is a highly prized free agent; he or she carriers influence from job to job throughout a career.
I have come up with another four roles related to sharing information; they are: thought curator, thought facilitator, thought provoker, and thought agitator.
A thought curator is someone who passes and shares ideas with a target audience. Being a thought curator requires canvassing information, and then funneling or filtering it to an audience. Followers depend on a thought curator to feed them relevant information in their field. This role requires a strong presence in social media.
A thought facilitator is someone who synthesizes information and insights on a platform for discussion. Being a thought facilitator requires putting information into online content and then moderating comments from an audience. This role requires managing a blog and/or discussion forum.
A thought provoker is someone who asks the right questions on a topic. Being a thought provoker requires processing information and posing questions and/or sharing an opinion on the underlying issues. A thought provoker might cross-disciplines where he or she does not have a knowledge base, but postulates or seeks answers from an audience. (Asking the right questions is becoming one of the most highly sought after skills in the Information Age.)
A thought agitator is similar to a thought provoker but also emotionally charges an audience. Being a thought agitator requires delivering a consistent message that attracts both supporters and naysayers who want to hear what’s coming next.
Becoming a thought leader might be too lofty of a goal for most of us, so consider taking on some combination of these other thought roles as a dimension of your personal brand.
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