Alloy logo

November 16, 2015

This article originally appeared in the Hypepotamus.

Tech industry professionals are some of the most aspirational and motivated people in the global workforce. Opportunities to transform the world through innovation, personal entrepreneurial ambitions and, of course, the prospects of garnering fortune are just some of the common motivators we hear from AR|PR ‘trep clients.

For most professionals, the pinnacle of one’s career is earning a C-suite title or board leadership position. While those accomplishments are – and should be – celebrated, many in the tech industry aspire to achieve a status that, in our industry, is actually perceived as more authoritative and of greater value: the prestige of being celebrated as a thought leader.

In a 2013 article on thought leaders, Mashable’s Lauren Hockenson wrote, “the term thought leader is the highest of compliments, and arguably the hardest moniker to achieve.” There is no doubt in the truthfulness of this statement; and the challenge in itself is perhaps the reason why so many tech pros are determined to achieve such recognition and acclaim.

Thought Leaders and the Evolution of Thought Leadership

Thought leaders are not exclusive to the tech industry; however, the respect, credibility and platforms given to them are unmatched. As such, tech pros have come to recognize the numerous opportunities to use thought leadership to grow not only their personal brands, but to also meet business goals and objectives.

Be that as it may, what’s often misunderstood are the nuances that separate bonafide thought leaders from someone or some company that is simply offering a piece of thought leadership. According to a 2013 article in Forbes, a thought leader is defined as, “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.”

As a result of the 24/7 news-cycle, the evolution of digital media and the proliferation of social media, today’s tech pros and their respective brands benefit from communications mediums and distribution channels like never before.  For example, today’s thought leaders can draft a blog, then cross-post it to LinkedIn’s Publishing Platform and Facebook’s revamped Notes feature. Then they can share it on Twitter, a company e-newsletter and even get it picked up by a press outlet – all within just hours. This frequency in method and means has oversaturated the tech industry with a plethora of thought leadership, while at the same time, hindered the emergence of real-deal thought leaders, like the Robert Scoble’s, Jeff Weiner’s and Kara Swisher’s of the world.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is something to be said for listening to the opinions of many over those of just a few. Nonetheless, it is likely that many tech pros will continue to have the itch to pursue the distinction as a thought leader.

Here are eight qualities to embrace along the way:

  1. Patience is a Virtue – You don’t dictate your emergence as a thought leader, others make that decision for you. Whether it takes a year or years, enjoy the ride and fight the urge for the instant gratification.

  2. Boldness over Boisterous – Accomplished thought leaders are bold in predictions, aspirations and assertions, yet they are humble when their prognostications turn out to be correct or valid.

  3. Embrace Research – Successful thought leaders validate their arguments and tackle counter arguments with proficiency and ease. They anticipate challenges to their opinions, and proactively prepare to combat detraction from those with dissenting points of view.

  4. Read – Don’t limit your reading list to the daily TechCrunch newsletter. Thought leaders take pride in being extremely well versed in all things current events, including business, sports, and yes, politics. The more substance you can add to a diversity of conversations, the more quickly you will be embraced as a thought leader.

  5. Responsibility in Tone – Nobody responds well to people who they think know everything, or who make their arguments personal. Keep close watch on your tone and communications style. Misrepresentation of your actual intentions can significantly impact your relationships and street cred.

  6. Buck the Status Quo – Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of a thought leader is the ability to advantageously buck the status quo. Not every subject or topic requires controversy or a dissenting opinion, but thought leaders rarely emerge from those who only conform to the mainstream.

  7. Embrace Evolution – Despite what you hear in politics, it’s OK to change your mind or position. New research, reporting and analysis can drive opinions to change from time to time. Living in absolutes is counterintuitive to what defines a thought leader – especially in the tech industry.

  8. Self-Promote – For some this comes natural, for others it’s a struggle. Regardless, prospective thought leaders need to find comfort in promoting themselves, their beliefs and their values. There is a fine line between what is acceptable and what might be considered narcissistic, but thought leaders are great at finding the appropriate balance.

There is nothing wrong with a world comprised of more thought leadership than actual thought leaders, but I suspect that won’t stop many tech pros from pursuing the recognition nonetheless. Hopefully this piece of thought leadership was helpful, for I understand my journey to thought leader has only just begun.