“The secret of business is to know something that nobody else knows.” – Aristotle Onassis

Greek entrepreneur Aristotle Onassis may have been, unbeknownst to himself, the first to identify the concept of thought leadership. While business methods have certainly evolved since his time, his words still ring true and perhaps exemplify a foundational definition of one of today’s hottest catchphrases. The concept of thought leadership has become so pervasive that companies have now started to establish positions such as “Director of Thought Leadership” and “Thought Leadership Manager.”

In today’s legal arena in particular, some of the most successful professionals are also established or burgeoning thought leaders. And with good reason! What better way to make your voice heard above the overwhelming roar that greets us via social and traditional media? For some, the act of thought leadership is second nature. For others, the “thought” itself is daunting. Regardless of where you fall in the spectrum, though, thought leadership is a powerful art that can’t be ignored.

So, just what is it exactly? Before you can find your inner thought leader, it’s important to fully understand the phrase.

What Is Thought Leadership?

As is often the case with trendy topics, the terms “thought leader” and “thought leadership” are sometimes misused and misunderstood. While there are many definitions and sentiments surrounding thought leadership, it is perhaps most simply defined as the art of establishing oneself as an authoritative and heeded voice on a particular topic by making an intellectual contribution to that topic.

Thought leaders quite literally lead with their thoughts and ideally solve problems in the process. They take Aristotle’s concept and move it one step forward by sharing their unique and proprietary ideas to garner an audience and, ideally, new clients.

How to Become a Thought Leader

Where and how does the thought leadership effort begin? How can you effectively find your inner thought leader and establish a point of view that will make a difference? I suggest the following:                               

  • Consider that which differentiates you: What sets you apart from your colleagues? Have you honed in on a particular angle that has helped to shape your practice? What is your personal brand and how can you establish a corresponding thought leadership concept? What experiences have you had that others in your field have not?
  • Consider your audience: Who are you trying to reach and what are their concerns? How can you ease their concerns and educate them in a unique and compelling way?
  • Consider your thought leadership marketing: Once you decide on and forge your initial foundation, where and how will you broadcast your thoughts? (Hint: This is where your firm’s friendly marketing department and consultants can truly dive in to support your efforts!) Savvy thought leaders seek out the formats that will best fit their messages and audiences. Some examples may include client alerts, e-books, e-newsletters, white papers and webinars. Further, with your messaging in proper format, what platforms will you and others use to share? Some examples include blogs, LinkedIn, Twitter and content aggregators such as JD Supra. Perhaps your platform is several of these options combined.
  • Consider the next level: What are your initial points in your messaging? Identify those… and then go the extra mile in your analysis. Breaking the plateau in everyday thinking is exactly what will elevate your words above those of your competitors. Don’t stop short of comprehensive and profound evaluation that will challenge and leave your audience wanting more.

The bottom line of thought leadership circles back to Onassis’s point: You have knowledge and unique perspective that others – be they colleagues, competitors, clients or prospects – do not. Your inner thought leader will emerge in accordance with your personal brand and professional trajectory, but that doesn’t mean it won’t take some digging!

How do you present your thought leadership? Contact Bethany Early at bearly@jaffepr.com, or leave a comment below.