What Does Thought Leadership Mean?

A woman in a yellow cardigan sits at a desk writing in a notebook, with a typewriter, glasses, a glass of liquor, and a whiskey bottle nearby in a well-lit room with shelves in the background.

Think about all of the leaders in your industry who are consistently getting headlines, who speak at major conferences, and who seem to have a loyal and dedicated following who hang on their every word.

What sets them apart?

It’s not luck. It’s not just having the right connections. It’s simple: These individuals understand the art of thought leadership. They have taken the chance on themselves to develop what could be a body of work, what could be intellectual property, and they’re positioning themselves as the go to experts. And what they’re doing is they’re inspiring others to follow their lead.

Today’s episode kicks off a brand new series all about thought leadership on Talk Copy to Me. And we’re going to explore what it really means to be a thought leader and how you can develop and cultivate your thought leadership in a way that’s best for you. It doesn’t matter whether you hope to create courses, write books, speak on stages, or simply host small group workshops — what you have to say is valuable.

Copy says: Listen in to this episode of the Talk Copy to Me podcast

What does thought leadership mean? Here is what Erin shares in this episode:

  • An introduction to thought leadership
  • Four listener-submitted clips on what they think thought leadership means
  • The key components to strategic thought leadership
  • The development and cultivation of thought leadership
  • Different methods for sharing thought leadership
  • Four excerpts from the conversations I had with the guest experts I interviewed for this series about why their method of sharing thought leadership is a good option
  • The ethical complications of building on other people’s thought leadership

Other podcast episodes and resources mentioned in this episodes:

quotes from this episode of the Talk Copy to Me copywriting podcast

Quotes about thought leadership from Erin Ollila

  • “It’s really important to have a vision and to have a goal and to understand…that thought leadership is cultivated. Because thought leaders are not simply reacting to things, they are anticipating.” – Erin Ollila

  • “Influence will grow as you continue to provide valuable content, as you continue to engage with your audience. But it’s not just about being liked and being trusted and being able to take the expertise and dive deeper than someone else. It’s truly about finding the resonance within this expertise, finding a way to connect to your audience, and finding a way to influence them that feels natural, that feels healthy.” – Erin Ollila

  • “I really don’t want you to listen to these episodes and automatically assume you are not a thought leader. If anything, I chose to do the series and I chose to interview the people I did because I want to encourage you to step into the role of being a thought leader.” – Erin Ollila

  • “Engagement and community building are essential for the overall development of your intellectual property. Invest the time now to interact with your audience, to respond to comments, or to participate in discussions as a way to ideate on what you could potentially focus on for your thought leadership or really to to develop it and to make it stronger.” – Erin Ollila

  • “Always be original with your thought leadership, and make sure that you are never stealing someone else’s intellectual property.” – Erin Ollila

Get to Know the Host of the Talk Copy to Me Podcast Erin Ollila

Learn more about your host, Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform – and even transform – its intended audience. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, and went on to co-found Spry, an award-winning online literary journal.

When Erin’s not helping her clients understand their website data or improve their website copy, you can catch her hosting the Talk Copy to Me podcast and guesting on shows such as Profit is a Choice, The Driven Woman Entrepreneur, Go Pitch Yourself, and Counsel Cast.

Stay in touch with Erin Ollila, SEO website copywriter:

Here’s the transcript for episode 120 on thought leadership with your host, Erin Ollila

NOTE: This podcast was transcribed by an AI tool. Please forgive any typos or errors. What Does Thought Leadership Mean for Service Providers and Small Business Owners [00:00:00] Erin Ollila: Ever wondered why some entrepreneurs are seen as visionaries or creators or basically just someone with something important to say, while others, maybe even you, don’t get noticed? The difference often comes down to one. thing: thought leadership. Think about all of the leaders in your industry who are consistently getting headlines, who speak at major conferences, and who seem to have a loyal and dedicated following who hang on their every word. [00:00:36] Erin Ollila: What sets them apart? It’s not luck. It’s not just having the right connections, though. That helps. These people have really mastered the art of thought leadership. So they have taken the chance on themselves to develop,, what could be a body of work, what could be intellectual property, and they’re positioning themselves as the go to experts. [00:01:01] Erin Ollila: Maybe they can predict trends. Maybe they offer, let’s say, solutions that are innovative compared to other people in their industry or other businesses. And what they’re doing is they’re inspiring others to follow their lead. They’re consistent with their message. And that’s something I really want you to think about as you listen to these next episodes. [00:01:23] Erin Ollila: Thought leaders are consistent with their message and they continue to make sure that their relevance and their resonance stays strong by constantly being visible. Today’s episode kicks off a brand new series all about thought leadership. And we’re going to explore what it really means to be a thought leader and how you can develop and cultivate your thought leadership in a way that’s best for you. [00:01:51] Erin Ollila: and your audience. [00:01:59] Erin Ollila: Today we’re kicking off a new series all about thought leadership. In this first episode, we’ll dive into what thought leadership means, why it matters, [00:02:09] Erin Ollila: And how to develop your own thought leadership as a creator, a service provider, a business owner, an entrepreneur, whatever you call yourself. But before we get into the topic completely, I wanted to share some thoughts from listeners of this podcast. A few weeks ago, I asked my social media and email followers to send me clips addressing what they thought. [00:02:36] Erin Ollila: Thought leadership was. What does it mean to them? Let’s hear what they have to say. [00:02:49] Erin Ollila: Thank you so much to everyone who sent in your thoughts for this episode. I think after we hear those few clips, it’s clear To see that thought leadership can mean many different things to different people. But some of the common themes that emerge from those clips and from other things I’ve read online while preparing for this episode are influence. [00:03:14] Erin Ollila: expertise, innovation, and providing value, as well as continuing to develop thought leadership over time. So let’s unpack this a bit more what exactly does thought mean? At its core, thought leadership is about Becoming recognized as an authority in your field, that you are someone who can offer insights and guidance that other people find valuable. Thought leadership or having and developing intellectual property isn’t something you’re born with. [00:03:52] Erin Ollila: It’s not something that you immediately get given to you when you open a business. It’s something that you have to develop. And broaden and maybe tighten and niche and really like work with and mold over time. And, I mean this is obvious, but important, thought leadership is also something that you share. [00:04:15] Erin Ollila: Again, I mentioned that it’s, it’s sharing guidance or sharing examples or expertise that others can find valuable. So if you’re not sharing your thought leadership, all you have are ideas that are living within yourself, within your business. So, being a thought leader is being someone who is willing to step out and to share these thoughts that they’ve cultivated over a period of time. [00:04:44] Erin Ollila: So, why would we want to be a thought leader? Well, stepping into your thought leadership is a strategic approach to establish your brand or establish your business or yourself as an expert, and it also helps you maintain visibility in what’s already an overcrowded market and online business world. [00:05:07] Erin Ollila: Let’s talk about a few of the key components of thought leadership that I just mentioned. First, there’s Authenticity. Being authentic is crucial if you want to be a thought leader. If you’re not genuine and true to your own voice, you’re not going to stand apart from your competitors, and your audience is not going to be invested in the thought leadership that you’re sharing. [00:05:30] Erin Ollila: They can tell when you’re being real, versus when you’re putting on, like, a face or trying to step into the shoes of someone that you aren’t, an expert that you are not. If you are authentic, it will build trust with your audience and trust is really the foundation for any type of influence. Without trust, there is no influence. [00:05:56] Erin Ollila: Expertise. Thought leaders need to be experts in whatever it is that they are speaking about or writing about or sharing in general to their audiences. That doesn’t mean that they have to be practicing in their field for a decade or more, or that they had to have like, Accumulated a rich body of work that totally sets them apart from everyone else in their field. [00:06:23] Erin Ollila: But being experts really means knowing what you’re talking about. Having the practice of experiencing or maybe educating elsewhere before stepping into thought leadership. And expertise. I’m sorry to inform you of this if you feel like once you make it there, you’ll get there. But expertise isn’t something that’s static. [00:06:45] Erin Ollila: It really requires continuous cultivation and learning and diving deep into what it is that you’re learning or the research you’re gathering before you can share that with an audience. So Your expertise needs to be continuously updated. You’re going to want to know the latest industry trends. [00:07:06] Erin Ollila: You’re going to be reading extensively in your field, and you’re always going to be seeking to improve that understanding. Your voice and your expertise is what gives you the authority. And again, Remember, if we’re going to add authenticity, so the trust factor, into expertise, that’s all of a sudden just kind of handing you authority on a plate because you have an audience who can trust you and you’re sharing with them something that they find relevant and important and that is authority building in its own right. [00:07:44] Erin Ollila: But there’s more. Let’s talk about vision for a second. It’s, it’s really important to have a vision and to have a goal and to understand, again, I’m saying this for like the fourth time in this episode, but to understand that thought leadership is cultivated because thought leaders are not simply reacting to Two things they are anticipating, they are reflecting, right? [00:08:09] Erin Ollila: So there is a forward thinking approach, which is why vision is so important, but there’s also a, um, if we’re going to look at vision as the ability to see back into the future and to reflect on what has happened, I think thought leaders need to be able to do both look forward and look back. So when they look forward, they can see the bigger picture. [00:08:31] Erin Ollila: They can guide. Their own audience or their peers, let’s say, into future trends to have innovative thoughts. And when they look back, they are able to process what has happened. They’re able to reflect and educate their audience, their peers on maybe what. How recent history has shown or how longer term history influences their industry, let’s say. [00:08:59] Erin Ollila: And since I’ve used the word influence a few times, let’s talk about influence. A person can be intelligent and a person can have a lot of education or a lot of experience in things. Let’s Yes, they’ll have trust if that’s shown to their audience by, you know, being authentic, yes, their audience will know about their education or experience because it’s obvious that that’s what they’re sharing and yes, they may be able to, you know, be innovative or to be able to reflect well, but without influence and being able to inspire an audience or share insights in a way that is motivating,, valuable or. [00:09:38] Erin Ollila: Just in a way that feels good for their audience, they’re not going to be able to really step into that leader part of thought leadership, you know, influence will grow as you continue to provide valuable content, as you continue to engage with your audience, but it’s not just about being liked and being trusted and being able to take the expertise and, you know, dive deeper than someone else. [00:10:05] Erin Ollila: It’s truly about finding the resonance within this expertise. Finding a way to connect to your audience and finding a way to influence them. That’s the key. feels natural, that feels healthy. It doesn’t feel forced and it doesn’t feel like you are looking down on them in any way. True thought leaders, I think, have a great ability to connect with their audience and get their message heard and understood and keep that audience looking for more. [00:10:41] Erin Ollila: So now that we talked a little bit about thought leadership and tried, I tried to answer the question, what does thought leadership mean? I want to talk about the development of thought leadership. It’s something that’s touched on in quite a few of the next few episodes, but I think that before we begin to talk about the different ways we can share our thought leadership, I do think it’s important to talk about,, the process or the practice of being able to cultivate, and I’ve said this a few times, your thought leadership. And what got me thinking about this was actually a conversation I had had in threads in April. [00:11:22] Erin Ollila: I had, posted about thought leadership and looking, for people I could potentially interview for this series or just to see, like, are there any gaps that I need to fill within the ideas that I currently have so I can provide you, the audience, with a well rounded, Series and, you know, a few episodes so that you could really start thinking about thought leadership and stepping into the role of a thought leader. [00:11:44] Erin Ollila: And someone had responded to my, one of my original posts with a great thought. It was JB Speaks on Threads. I will link to his , profile, but he said, something that came to mind is that in order to be a thought leader, we have to practice leading our own thoughts as well. And he mentions that, you know, it might be good to talk about,, the process or the practice of stewarding thought leadership, which really got me to thinking about something that I had said in a future episode. [00:12:18] Erin Ollila: And it’s that, you know, There are times I think in people’s life when they feel like I don’t have anything important to say and I think that’s that’s fine That’s fair. I’ve been there myself there are also times when people are excited and motivated to share something and I think that those are two opposite ends of the spectrum and most people don’t necessarily agree with that If you’re hearing this and you’re thinking to yourself, I’m not a thought leader, you know, like as if a thought leader is someone who has to be grand and bold and exciting, I really want you to challenge yourself to listen to these episodes, to see yourself as a thought leader, because I think that when someone cares a lot about a topic and someone is willing to put in the effort to learn more about it, especially if it’s something that they’re practicing within their own business and to , develop their thoughts and question themselves and question the status quo, that is thought leadership in practice. [00:13:20] Erin Ollila: And it might not be what you consider it. , you might be sitting there thinking that you’re just thinking about your job. You’re just thinking. Thinking about your industry. You’re just thinking about this one particular thing that you do or topic within your field. But by questioning things, by researching things, by studying, by obsessing, by having conversations with your peers and challenging each other, that is the actual process of practicing thought leadership. [00:13:51] Erin Ollila: Like eventually, you know, your topic so well that it feels natural for you to start sharing about it, to talk about it with confidence, to find ways that you can share thought leadership. [00:14:07] Erin Ollila: Speaking on Stages, as just one example. So, yes, you may get to a point where being a thought leader is easier, but I really don’t want you to listen to these episodes and automatically assume you are not a thought leader. If anything, I chose to do this series, and I chose to interview the people I did, because I want to encourage you to step into the role of being a thought leader. [00:14:31] Erin Ollila: And I, and I want you to realize that thought leadership is not just sharing content on social media. Social media is a tool where you could share some thought leadership. And we have a great episode on that with, Tanya Bhattacharya, who came on during the social media series , and she talked to us about using LinkedIn as a form of thought leadership. [00:14:52] Erin Ollila: It’s a great episode. And absolutely, absolutely. Think of social as a tool, but I often hear people mention things like, oh, you know, I, I’m a thought leader on social media without realizing that Just having ideas and just having content to share isn’t something that’s cultivated. It’s not something that’s developed. [00:15:14] Erin Ollila: It’s not a practice. It’s not expertise. So I’m getting on a tangent here. Basically, you could be a thought leader if that’s not what you see yourself as right now. And if you are someone who sees yourself as a thought leader, then I really want you to listen to the episodes and think about how each of these potential,, Methods of sharing thought leadership could help you in your business, and maybe it’s, you know, you’ll decide to pivot and focus, focus in on one more than another, [00:15:45] Erin Ollila: and speaking on the different ways that we can, we can share thought leadership, I want to share a few more clips with you. I asked all of the experts. What they defined thought leadership as, or what thought leadership meant to them when we first started every episode. So, Here’s what they have to say about thought leadership, let’s start with Christina Rava, who joins us on the podcast on Thursday to talk about creating courses and course development as a form of thought leadership. [00:16:40] Erin Ollila: Next, I’d like to introduce you to Charlotte Davies, a fellow copywriting friend of mine, who joins us on the podcast to talk about public speaking as a form of thought leadership. [00:16:53] Erin Ollila: And here’s Jessica Lackey, who talks about hosting free roundtables and workshops as a way to develop her thought leadership while also serving her community. [00:17:15] Erin Ollila: If you’re interested in publishing a book, let me introduce you to Jodi Brandon, who will talk about writing and publishing books as a form of thought leadership. [00:17:28] Erin Ollila: And finally, if you’re ready to go all in on thought leadership, you need to know my friend, [00:18:11] Erin Ollila: So thank you to the guest experts to share those thoughts on thought leadership. I hope you’ll join us back over the next four or five episodes where we can talk about the different methods for sharing thought leadership. you’ll learn about creating courses. Writing books, giving speeches, running workshops, and even developing frameworks for your thought leadership. [00:18:35] Erin Ollila: If you’re looking for some quick wins from now until Thursday, consider how engagement, networking, community building, and collaboration play into your overall thought leadership goals. So engagement and community building are essential for the overall development of your intellectual property. Invest the time now to interact with your audience, to respond to comments, or to participate in discussions as a way to ideate on what you could potentially focus on for your thought leadership or really to, to develop it and to make it stronger. [00:19:10] Erin Ollila: And let’s not forget about networking and collaboration and the role that they play in improving thought leadership. When you meet with other thought leaders and industry experts and get to know them, you’re going to enhance your own thought leadership. Not only are they offering potential new perspectives, but they may spark ideas for you about the thought leadership that you’re already formulating and you’re already developing on your own. [00:19:37] Erin Ollila: Would you? brings me to an important caveat to working with and learning from other individuals. Let’s pause for a second and talk about the ethical considerations of thought leadership. Ethical behavior is [00:19:56] Erin Ollila: Always be original with your thought leadership and make sure that you are never stealing someone else’s intellectual property. As you learned from my last episode of the recent theft of my own copy content and concepts, plagiarism not only damages your reputation, but it also destroys your credibility. [00:20:16] Erin Ollila: It absolutely undermines the trust that you’ve built with your audience. If you put all of the effort in to learn, to study, to grow, to improve, and to develop your own thought leadership, only for it to appear that you have borrowed someone else’s intellectual property, you’re going to lose all All of the credit that you have built for yourself. [00:20:40] Erin Ollila: What this means though, because I don’t want you to think that you can’t learn from other people. I just told you that good thought leaders are collaborators. They’re, meeting other innovative people in their networks. What it means is that. You need to learn from what people are telling you, but then develop your own unique insights on that information or the education you’ve received. [00:21:06] Erin Ollila: And if the education and information you’ve received is,, maybe a foundational piece to your own thought leadership, you have to give proper credit to where it’s due so that you can maintain integrity. Here’s an example. I set up an affiliate program this year, and I used two different courses that were really integral to setting up my affiliate program. [00:21:28] Erin Ollila: One was Lizzie Goddard’s Street Teams training, and the other one was Damajoo’s Pay Your Pals training. So if I suddenly decided that I wanted to develop thought leadership around affiliate programs, I’d want my audience to understand that my own affiliate program was created and improved upon by by the learnings that I had and the education that I had from those two individuals. [00:21:56] Erin Ollila: I mean, the example doesn’t work out perfectly here because again, I’m not going to talk about affiliate programs as, you know, the thought leadership for my own business. But maybe I want to talk about what I learned in my MFA program of creative writing and how that’s, you know, really changed the way that I approach copywriting or something to that effect. [00:22:15] Erin Ollila: So if there is something that you really, really learned from someone else, remember that, The best ethical approach to it is to give them credit and explain to your audience that maybe you’ve built upon what it is that you’ve learned, [00:22:31] Erin Ollila: whatever it is, make sure to give credit where credit is due. [00:22:36] Erin Ollila: So thanks for joining me on this episode of Talk Copy to Me. I hope that you will stay tuned for our next episode, where we’ll dive deeper into how to create courses as a way to showcase your intellectual , property, and establish your thought leadership. [00:22:52] Erin Ollila: See you again next week.

Note: Show notes may contain affiliate links to products, offers, and services that I whole-heartedly recommend.

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