How to become a thought leader – part 2 – what makes an ideal candidate?

Welcome back to our new series of blogs on becoming a thought leader. In part one we discussed getting the foundation right by deciding on the right objectives. This week we’ll be looking at the factors an individual needs to establish themselves as a successful thought leader.

There are several key ingredients that go into the making of a good thought leader, including a mixture of natural talents and attributes that can be worked on with time and training.

Credibility with the target audience 

Your thought leader must have the skills and experience to win over your prospects, although the requirements will change depending on the target demographic. C-suite level decision makers are often more swayed by the seniority and business acumen of an individual, while non-executive decision makers will respond better to a thought leader with a high level of technical knowledge and direct experience. Ideally you should look to develop multiple thought leaders targeting different audiences with the right level of experience and knowledge.

This carries through when it comes to sharing or acting as the spokesperson for thought leadership content such as original research too. Our recent study into the impact of thought leadership in cyber security found that, when it comes to being sent content, 87 percent of CISOs set their relationship with the individual sharing it as the most important factor. By comparison, 76 percent of non-exec IT and security decision makers felt the same.

Your ideal candidate will already have foundations here, but credibility can still be built over time. Getting involved in activity such as industry events, forums and media commentary can help to build credibility and make thought leaders more effective

Communication skills 

Regardless of the target audience, the ability to express complex ideas in an easily understandable way is essential. Other traits such as natural charisma and passion are also very valuable. Some individuals are better with written comment, while others excel in speaking, so play to the individual’s strengths to ensure they can always demonstrate their knowledge to the fullest.

Charismatic speakers can focus on activities such as media interviews, webinars, podcasts and speaking at events. Eloquent writers meanwhile can contribute more to editorial bylines and media comment, as well as blogs, white papers and other internal content. External specialists can help your thought leaders cover all the bases – for example media training to boost spoken comms skills, and copywriters to turn ideas into compelling written content.


Thought leaders must be able to maintain a constant presence in order to be truly influential. Your candidates will usually need to balance their everyday job responsibilities against activity such as media and conference opportunities and maintaining their social media presence.

A good PR and marketing team can be invaluable in helping to organise activity to balance the individual’s job while ensuring opportunities are not missed. Geographical location and time zones will also have a major impact, as it can be challenging to maintain consistent availability across large time differences. Ideally you should look to develop multiple thought leaders for different areas, and ensure they are well supported by your comms team to coordinate opportunities as needed.

All three of these qualities are needed to some degree for an individual to begin building their reputation as a thought leader. Some individuals will already have these traits to a large degree, while others can build on them over time. In ether case, a solid framework of support, training and coordination can help your chosen thought leaders to excel.

Join us next week when we’ll move on to zeroing in on your target audience and defining your area of expertise. In the meantime, check out our new eBook for more insights into the impact of thought leadership on senior IT and security decision makers.

How to become a thought leader – part 3 – Define your message

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